Inverse modeling of unsaturated flow using clusters of soil texture and pedotransfer functions

Yonggen Zhang, Marcel G. Schaap, Alberto Guadagnini, Shlomo P. Neuman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Characterization of heterogeneous soil hydraulic parameters of deep vadose zones is often difficult and expensive, making it necessary to rely on other sources of information. Pedotransfer functions (PTFs) based on soil texture data constitute a simple alternative to inverse hydraulic parameter estimation, but their accuracy is often modest. Inverse modeling entails a compromise between detailed description of subsurface heterogeneity and the need to restrict the number of parameters. We propose two methods of parameterizing vadose zone hydraulic properties using a combination of k-means clustering of kriged soil texture data, PTFs, and model inversion. One approach entails homogeneous and the other heterogeneous clusters. Clusters may include subdomains of the computational grid that need not be contiguous in space. The first approach homogenizes within-cluster variability into initial hydraulic parameter estimates that are subsequently optimized by inversion. The second approach maintains heterogeneity through multiplication of each spatially varying initial hydraulic parameter by a scale factor, estimated a posteriori through inversion. This allows preserving heterogeneity without introducing a large number of adjustable parameters. We use each approach to simulate a 95 day infiltration experiment in unsaturated layered sediments at a semiarid site near Phoenix, Arizona, over an area of 50 × 50 m2 down to a depth of 14.5 m. Results show that both clustering approaches improve simulated moisture contents considerably in comparison to those based solely on PTF estimates. Our calibrated models are validated against data from a subsequent 295 day infiltration experiment at the site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7631-7644
Number of pages14
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • heterogeneity
  • hydraulic properties
  • inversion
  • pedotransfer
  • soil texture
  • vadose zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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