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Field and laboratory estimates of pore size properties and hydraulic characteristics for subarctic organic soils

Carey, Sean K., Quinton, William L., Goeller, Neil T.
Hydrological processes 2007 v.21 no.19 pp. 2560-2571
basins, field experimentation, hydrologic models, image analysis, laboratory techniques, macropores, organic soils, permafrost, porosity, soil sampling, streams, subarctic soils, uncertainty, unsaturated hydraulic conductivity, wolves, Yukon Territory
Characterizing active and water-conducting porosity in organic soils in both saturated and unsaturated zones is required for models of water and solute transport. There is a limitation, largely due to lack of data, on the hydraulic properties of unsaturated organic soils in permafrost regions, and in particular, the relationship between hydraulic conductivity and pressure head. Additionally, there is uncertainty as to what fraction of the matrix and what pores conduct water at different pressure heads, as closed and dead-end pores are common features in organic soil. The objectives of this study were to determine the water-conducting porosity of organic soils for different pore radii ranges using the method proposed by Bodhinayake et al. (2004) [Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 68:760-769] and compare these values to active pore size distributions from resin-impregnated laboratory thin sections and pressure plate analysis. Field experiments and soil samples were completed in the Wolf Creek Research Basin, Yukon. Water infiltration rates were measured 16 times using a tension infiltrometer (TI) at 5 different pressure heads from - 150 to 0 mm. This data was combined with Gardiner's (1958) exponential unsaturated hydraulic conductivity function to provide water-conducting porosity for different pore-size ranges. Total water-conducting porosity was 1·1 x 10⁻⁴, which accounted for only 0·01% of the total soil volume. Active pore areas obtained from 2-D image analysis ranged from 0·45 to 0·60, declining with depth. Macropores accounted for approximately 65% of the water flux at saturation, yet all methods suggest macropores account for only a small fraction of the total porosity. Results among the methods are highly equivocal, and more research is required to reconcile field and laboratory methods of pore and hydraulic characteristics. However, this information is of significant value as organic soils in permafrost regions are poorly characterized in the literature.