Hydraulic conductivity of variably saturated porous media: Film and corner flow in angular pore space

M. Tuller, D. Or

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

242 Scopus citations


Many models for hydraulic conductivity of partially saturated porous media rely on oversimplified representation of the pore space as a bundle of cylindrical capillaries and disregard flow in liquid films. Recent progress in modeling liquid behavior in angular pores of partially saturated porous media offers an alternative framework. We assume that equilibrium liquid-vapor interfaces provide well-defined and stable boundaries for slow laminar film and corner flow regimes in pore space comprised of angular pores connected to slit-shaped spaces. Knowledge of liquid configuration in the assumed geometry facilitates calculation of average liquid velocities in films and corners and enables derivation of pore-scale hydraulic conductivity as a function of matric potential. The pore-scale model is statistically upscaled to represent hydraulic conductivity for a sample of porous medium. Model parameters for the analytical sample-scale expressions are estimated from measured liquid retention data and other measurable medium properties. Model calculations illustrate the important role of film flow, whose contribution dominates capillary flow (in full pores and corners) at relatively high matric potentials (approximately -100 to -300 J kg-1, or -1 to 3 bars). The crossover region between film and capillary flow is marked by a significant change in the slope of the hydraulic conductivity function as often observed in measurements. Model predictions are compared with the widely applied van Genuchten-Mualem model and yield reasonable agreement with measured retention and hydraulic conductivity data over a wide range of soil textural classes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1257-1276
Number of pages20
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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