- Published in Vadose Zone Journal1:38–57.
Capillary pressure plays a central role in the description of water flow in unsaturated soils. While capillarity is ubiquitous in unsaturated analyses, the theoretical basis and practical implications of capillarity in soils remain poorly understood. In most traditional treatments of capillary pressure, it is defined as the difference between pressures of phases, in this case air and water, and is assumed to be a function of saturation. Recent theories have indicated that capillary pressure should be given a more general thermodynamic definition, and its functional dependence should be generalized to include dynamic effects. Experimental evidence has slowly accumulated in the past decades to support a more general description of capillary pressure that includes dynamic effects. A review of these experiments shows that the coefficient arising in the theoretical analysis can be estimated from the reported data. The calculated values range from 104 to 107 kg (m s)−1. In addition, recently developed pore-scale models that simulate interface dynamics within a network of pores can also be used to estimate the appropriate dynamic coefficients. Analyses of experiments reported in the literature, and of simulations based on pore-scale models, indicate a range of dynamic coefficients that spans about three orders of magnitude. To examine whether these coefficients have any practical effects on larger-scale problems, continuum-scale simulators may be constructed in which the dynamic effects are included. These simulators may then be run to determine the range of coefficients for which discernable effects occur. Results from such simulations indicate that measured values of dynamic coefficients are within one order of magnitude of those values that produce significant effects in field simulations. This indicates that dynamic effects may be important for some field situations, and numerical simulators for unsaturated flow should generally include the additional term(s) associated with dynamic capillary pressure.
- Received November 26, 2001.