Air-water interfacial areas in unsaturated soils: Evaluation of interfacial domains

Molly S. Costanza-Robinson, Mark L. Brusseau

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77 Scopus citations


A gas-phase miscible-displacement method, using decane as an interfacial tracer, was used to measure air-water interfacial areas for a sand with water Contents ranging from ∼2% to 20%. The expected trend of decreasing interfacial areas with increasing water contents was observed. The maximum estimated interfacial area of 19,500 cm-1 appears reasonable given it is smaller than the measured surface area of the porous medium (60,888 cm-1). Comparison of the experimental data presented herein with literature data provided further insight into the characterization of the air-water intterface in unsaturated porous media. Specifically, comparison of interfacial areas measured using gas-phase versus aqueous-phase methods indicates that the gas-phase method generally yields larger interfacial areas than the aqueous-phase methods, even when accounting for differences in water content and physical properties of the porous media. The observations are consistent with proposed differences in interfacial accessibility of the aqueous- and gas-phase tracers. Evaluation of the data in light of functional interfacial domains, described herein, yields the hypothesis that aqueous interfacial tracers measure primarily air-water interfaces formed by "capillary water," while gas-phase tracers measure air-water interfaces formed by both capillary and surface-adsorbed (film) water. The gas- and aqueous-phase methods may each provide interfacial area information that is more relevant to specific problems of interest. For example, gas-phase interfacial area measurements may be most relevant to contaminant transport in unsaturated systems, where retention at the air-water interface may be significant. Conversely, the aqueous-phase methods may yield information with direct bearing on multiphase flow processes that are dominated by capillary-phase behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-1-13-17
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2002


  • Air-water interface
  • Interfacial tracer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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