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Applied and Environmental Soil Science
Volume 2012, Article ID 679210, 8 pages
Research Article

Laboratory Experiments on the Effect of Microtopography on Soil-Water Movement: Spatial Variability in Wetting Front Movement

Department of Civil Engineering, North Dakota State University, Dept 2470, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050, USA

Received 6 September 2011; Accepted 2 December 2011

Academic Editor: Alessandro Piccolo

Copyright © 2012 Leif Sande and Xuefeng Chu. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The effect of microtopography on soil-water movement is a topic of interest for a range of disciplines, with experimental studies investigating the relationship between the two lacking. Laboratory experiments were conducted by simulating rainfall across packed soil surfaces to investigate the effect of microtopography on wetting front movement within experimental soil profiles. In small soil box experiments, the observed wetting fronts for soil profiles showed considerably deeper movement beneath a smooth surface than depressions for 12–60 min rainfalls. For large soil box experiments, the wetting front reached moisture sensors installed at 5 and 10 cm depths and corresponding to various rough and smooth surface features at significantly different times, with movement being most rapid beneath the smooth surface. Wetting front movement was “quicker” beneath surface peaks than depressions for the rough surface as attributed to 2D/3D unsaturated flow. This study provides valuable experimentally based insight into the effect of microtopography on soil-water movement.