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VOL. 6, NO.


Post-Irrigation Movement o[ Soil Water
Simultaneous Redistribution and Evaporation
University o] Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 55706
Abstract. Water content measurements by ,-ray attenuation were made on soil columns
during simultaneous redistribution and evaporation following irrigation. Redistribution is
shown to reduce evaporation, in some cases appreciably. For a deep irrigation the redistri-
bution proceeds at a rate that is relatively independent of the evaporation process, as has
been predicted from numerical solutions of the flow equation. Expressions are derived for
obtaining an estimate of amount of reduction in evaporation due to redistribution when the
redistribution rate is known.
Detailed studies have been conducted in
recent years on the various processes compris-
ing the field water cycle, including infiltration,
redistribution, drainage, evaporation, and evapo-
transpiration. Most of these studies, however,
have dealt with a single process under idealized
conditions that justified disregarding possible
interactions with other processes occurring se-
quentially or simultaneously.
In the field, however, these processes hardly
ever occur independently. In particular, the
beginning of evaporation generally follows a
wetting or irrigation, at the end of which the
typical moisture profile (in the absence of a
high water table condition) consists of a wet
layer overlying relatively dry soil beneath.
Under such conditions, two processes may occur
simultaneously in different parts of the profile:
(1) evaporation at the surface, which induces
upward flow, and (2) redistribution, or internal
drainage, by which water moves downward in
response to gravitational and suction gradients.
With water moving upward at the top. and
downward at the bottom of the wetted zone, the
profile exhibits a plane of zero flux, or 'water-
shed divide', which gradually moves downward
into the profile.
There have been a number of previous studies
of these processes, for example Richards et al.
* On leave from the Hebrew University of Je-
rusalem, Israel.
[1956], and Black et al. [1969]. However, the
sand studied by Black and others represents a
very special case that could be treated in a
simple theoretical fashion and the conclusions
may not be generally applicable. Data on a
number of soils of different textures are neces-
sary to formulate a general description of the
processes. It is the purpose of this study to
obtain measurements of the soil water content
distribution as a function of time during redis-
tribution and evaporation following irrigation
in order to evaluate the mutual interaction be-
tween the two processes. Reference is made to
two previous papers by the authors in which
the processes of evaporation and redistribution
were studied separately [Gardner and Hillel,
1962; Gardner et al., 1970].
A series of evaporation and redistribution
trials was conducted with vertical columns of
Gilat loess. Air-dry soil was passed through a
2 mm screen and packed mechanically, to a
bulk density of 1.47 _ 0.02 grams/cm , in 5 cm
ID lucite tubes, 160 cm long. All operations
were carried out in a temperature controlled
room at 22' 1C. The columns were then ir-
rigated repeatedly with 50 mm of water and
some. with 100 mm of water at various intervals
of time. Parallel sets of columns were allowed
to evaporate during the inter-irrigation periods
(at a potential evaporativity of about 4 to 5
mm per day) while others were covered with
Movement o[ Soil Water
Volumetric water content (%)
A. Redistribution without
o. I0 I
20 !
i$ , 5
B. Simultaneous evaporation
and redistribution
C. Evaporation only
Fig. 1. ,Successive moisture profiles of soil columns following an irrigation of 50 min. Profiles
are designated according to number of days after irrigation.
sheets of polyethylene to prevent evaporation.
The columns subjected to evaporation alone
were only 16 cm or 32 cm long and were wetted
to the bottom. The evaporation rate was de-
termined by twice daily weighings of the col-
umns. The water content profiles were moni-
tored repeatedly by means of gamma ray
scanner. A separate set of evaporating columns
was used for the measurement of the diffusivity-
water content relation. These relations are re-
ported in a previous paper [Gardner et al.,
Typical sets of successive moisture profile
measured during redistribution, evaporation,
and simultaneous redistribution and evapora-
tion, are shown in Figures 1 and 2. It is seen
that the curves of the simultaneous processes
resemble the corresponding ones for redistribu-
tion alone, except for the evident effect of eva-
poration in the surface zone. The lower portions
of these curves indicate that evaporation had
litfie effect on the shape and rate of advance of
the wetting front in the redistributing columns.
Fig. 2.
Volumetric water content (%)
5 I0 15 20 25 0 35
' ' ' ' I ' 00'
...... :.. ,..
5 ........
- //

4( .
Redistribution only
1 [ Evoporetion +
45 - ' ........... redistribution
Successive moisture profiles of soil columns following an irrigation of 100 mm. Pro-
files are designated according to number of days after irrigation.
Figure 3 gives the cumulative evaporation
versus time curves for the columns subject to
evaporation only, in comparison with those for
the correspondingly irrigated columns in which
evaporation and redistribution occurred to-
gether. Figure 4 gives the cumulative drainage.
It can be seen that evaporation has little effect
on drainage (in each case reducing it by only
about 10%). This corroborates statements by
Rubin [1967] and by Remson et al. [1967],
who carried out numerical analyses of the re-
distribution process. On the other hand, redis-
tribution detracted greatly from evaporation,
reducing it in fact by about three fourths. A
comparison of Figures 3 and 4 suggests, in-
terestingly, that for a shallow wetting of an
initially dry profile the two processes, when they
take place independently, give roughly equal
rates of water outflow. The potential evapora-
tion rates employed in these experiments were
approximately those found, on the average, in
the field in the region from which the soil was
Figures 5 and 6 show the localized moisture
co.ntent decrease with time at two depths dur-
ing redistribution and evaporation, independ-
ently and simultaneously. It is seen that except
at the very surface, the moisture content de-
crease due to redistribution is more rapid at first
than that due to evaporation. However, after
several days (depending on the depth) as the
redistribution process slows down and as the
Movement o Soil Water 1151
Evaporation following IOOmm
Evaporation fol lowing
50mm irrigation
Evaporation redistribution
following IOOmm irrigation
Evaporation + redistribution
(repeated 50mm irrigations)
Io 20 5o
Time (days)
Fig. 3. Cumulative evaporation in evaporating
and redistributing columns.
effect of evaporation extends into the profile,
it is predominately the latter process that re-
duces downward redistribution, as it subtracts
from the amount of water that would otherwise
be available for redistribution. On the other
hand, redistribution can be expected to detract
from evaporation more strongly than vice
versa, as it tends to decrease the water content
(and hence both the overall gradient and the
diffusivity) in the upper zone subject to evapo-
ration. This interaction can be important in
practice, as it can enhance the effect of evapora-
tion retardants in water conservation. Surface
treatments that retard evaporation only dur-
ing the initial stage of drying may have little
effect on cumulative water loss in the long run
in a profile in which evaporation is occurring
without internal drainage. However, if such
initial retardation of evaporation can allow
more of the infiltrated water to move into
deeper layers (beyond the reach of subsequent
evaporation), surface treatments such as mulch-
ing may conserve water in the long run as
well as during the initial stage.
An exact quantitative treatment of the prob-
lem requires solution of the unsaturated flow
equation and, quite possibly, inclusion of tem-
perature gradients and their effect upon liq-
uid and vapor transport [Rose, 1968]. However,
an analytical expression, even though very ap-
proximate, could be of considerable value in
predicting evaporation and redistribution under
various conditions.
The data above, that reported by Black et al.
[1969], and the calculqtions by Remson et al.
[1967] indicate that the redistribution process
is influenced only slightly by the evaporation
process, particularly immediately after irriga-
tion when the drying front has not penetrated
very deeply into the soil. Thus the simplest as-
sumption that can be made is that used im-
plicitly by Gardner and Gardner [1969], which
might be called the field capacity assumption,
which is that the redistribution is virtually
complete after only a short time and that one
then uses the solution of the flow equation in
the absence of redistribution and with the initial
soil water diffusivity corresponding to the
water content after complete redistribution has
Cumulative evaporation from a deeply wetted
soil can be treated as evaporation from a semi-
infinite soil profile for several days immediately
after wetting. With infinite evaporativity the
cumulative evaporation increases as the square
root of time [Gardner, 1959]
E -- 2i(( D t/Tr) 1/2 (1)
where (D) is the weighted mean diffusivity over
the range of water contents involved and 06 is
the average water content of the profile at the
start of the evaporation process. The uppermost
curve in Figure 3 obeys equation i very well
except for the first day or two, in which the
evaporation rate is undoubtedly limited partly
by external conditions.
What is perhaps more surprising is that the
cumulative evaporation for the columns in
which redistribution was occurring also fol-
lowed the square root of time within the pre-
cision of the experiments. Their behavior is as
though most of the redistribution occurred very
early in the evaporation process and that eva-
Redistribution following IOOmm
With evaporation
X'Without evaporation
Redistribution following 50 mm
evaporat ion
I0 20 50
Time (days)
Fig. 4. Cumulative drainage through the initial
wetting front in evaporating and redistributing
>, O.
Fig. 5.
Time (days)
Moisture decrease with time at a depth
of 25 cm.
poration is governed also in this case very
nearly by equation 1 but with a reduced dif-
fusivity due to the reduction in the water con-
tent caused by the redistribution. That this o
seems to be the case is shown by calculating the
evaporation to be expected under such condi-
tions. The initial water content of the soil was
about 0.38 for the evaporation experiment with-
out redistribution. After about two days, re- o.
distribution reduced the water content of the
soil to about 0.30, a ratio of water contents of
about 1.3. For this soil the diffusivity is pro-
portional to 0 '8 [Gardner et al., 1970]. The
ratio of the cumulative evaporation E, without
redistribution, to E,, that with redistribution,
would be according to this simple model'
= 20,(D,t/r) /'
> o.I
-- =
Examination of the curve in Figure 3 for
evaporation alone compared with the curve for
evaporation plus redistribution following 100
mm irrigation shows that the ratio is, in fact,
very close to 2.6.
Cumulative evaporation from a soil wetted
to a finite depth does not follow the square root
of time indefinitely. The data of Gardner and
Gardner [1969] can be fitted by a theoretical
expression based upon the same assumption as
that made in this paper, for example, that of an
instantaneous redistribution. However, this as-
sumption cannot be expected to. be valid for
deep irrigations and long evaporation times.
The data of Richards et al. [1956] indicate an
initial evaporation rate that is roughly propor-
tional to the square root of time but the time
dependence of the evaporation rate decreases
so that after about 30 days the cumulative eva-
poration increases as about t '. One possible
way in which to estimate the evaporation under
such conditions is to assume that the water con-
tent of the soil decreases at a rate determined
by the redistribution process, and to substitute
this decreasing water content and an appro-
priately decreasing diffusivity into equation 1.
From the analysis and data in a previous paper
[Gardner et al., 19'70] an expression of the form
0/0, = (t + c)-b (3)
where b and c are constants, may be used to
describe the decrease in water content with
time due to redistribution. The present experi-
...__Redi s tri but ion
vo n
Fig. 6.
Time (days)
Moisture decrease with time at a depth
of 10 cm.
Movement o Soil Water 1153
ments were not continued for a sufficiently long
time to test this approach quantitatively, but it
is consistent with the data of Richards et al.
The above analysis was made without specific
reference to an upper boundary condition in
which actual evaporation is limited by the ex-
ternal evaporativity. Under conditions of low
evaporativity there would be an even greater
tendency toward redistribution. The assumption
of a single weighted mean diffusivity based upon
some water content ]ess than the initial water
content tends to underestimate the evaporation
during early times. However, the occurrence
of a finite initial evaporation rate controlled by
external conditions is in the direction that tends
to compensate partially for this underestima-
tion. On the other hand, under conditions of ex-
tremely low potential evaporation, equation 1
is invalid since it assumes infinite evaporativity,
and the approach described here should over-
estimate the evaporation. The interaction of
evaporation and redistribution in the presence
of a mulch requires further analysis and experi-
mental study. The present analysis also dis-
regards the role that vapor transport, thermal
gradients, and hysteresis might play in the in-
teraction between redistribution and evapora-
Acknowledgment. This project was supported
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under
Public Law 480, grant FG-Is-163, and was con-
ducted in cooperation with the Soil and Water
Conservation Research Division, Agricultural Re-
search Service.
Black, T. A., W. R. Gardner, and G. W. Thurtell,
The prediction of evaporation, drainage and
soil water storage for a bare soil, Soil Sci. Soc.
Amer. Proc., 33, 655-660, 1969.
Gardner, YI. R., and W. R. Gardner, Relation of
water application to evaporation and storage of
soil water, Soil Sci. Soc.' Amer. Proc., 33, 192-
196, 1969.
Gardner, W. R., Solutions to the flow equation for
the drying of soils and other porous media, Soil
Sci. Soc. Amer. Proc., 23, 183-187, 1959.
Gardner, W. R., and D. I. Hillel, The relation of
external evaporative conditions to the drying
of soils, J. Geophys. Res., 67, 4319-4325, 1962.
Gardner, W. R., D. I. Hillel, and Y. Benyamini,
Post-irrigation movement of soil water, 1, Re-
distribution, Water Resour. Res., 6(4), 000-000,
Remson, I., A. A. Fungaroli, and G. M. Horn-
berger, Numerical analysis of soil moisture sys-
tems, J. Irrig. Drain. Div., Amer. Soc. Civil Eng.,
3, 153-166, 1967.
Richards, L. A., W. R. Gardner, and Gen Ogat,
Physical processes determining water loss from
soil, Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. Proc., 30, 310-314, 1956.
Rose, C. W., Evaporation from bare soil under
high radiation conditions, Trans. 9th Int. Congr.
Soil Sci., 1, 57-66, 1968.
Rubin, J., Numerical method for analyzing hyst-
eresis-affected, post-infiltration redistribution of
soil moisture, Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. Proc., 31, 13-
20, 1967.
(Manuscript received August 18, 1969;
revised December 30, 1969.)