|Water transfer in soil at low water content. Is the local equilibrium assumption still appropriate? |
(Article) Publié: Journal Of Hydrology, vol. 492 p.117-124 (2013)
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The dynamics of water content in the superfi cial layers of soils is critical in the modelling of land-surface processes. In arid regions, vapour flux contributes signifi cantly to the global water mass balance. To account for it in theoretical descriptions, most of the models proposed in the literature rely on the local equilibrium assumption that constrains the vapour pressure to remain at its equilibrium value. It implicitly amounts to consider an instantaneous phase change. Recent works underlined a retardation time and a decrease in phase change rate as the water content gets lower. Therefore, the objective is to revisit water transport modelling by rejecting the local equilibrium assumption. This requires developing a non-equilibrium model by taking into account the phase change kinetics. To assess the interest of this approach, a natural soil of Burkina-Faso has been experimentally characterized from independent tests and soil column experiments have been carried out. The comparison of experimental drying kinetics and water content profi les with computational predictions confi rms the reliability of this description. Liquid/gas non-equilibrium is signi ficant in a limited subsurface zone which defi nes explicitly the transition from liquid transport in lower layers to vapour transport in upper layers, i.e., the evaporation front. The overall moisture dynamics is governed by the coupling between water transport mechanisms (liquid fi ltration, vapour di ffusion, phase change) that mainly occurs in this transition zone.