Soil compaction not only reduces available pore volume in which fluids are stored, but it alters the arrangement of soil constituents and pore geometry, thereby adversely impacting fluid transport and a range of soil ecological functions. Quantitative understanding of stress transmission and deformation processes in arable soils remains limited. Yet such knowledge is essential for better predictions of effects of soil management practices such as agricultural field traffic on soil functioning. Concepts and theory used in agricultural soil mechanics (soil compaction and soil tillage) are often adopted from conventional soil mechanics (e.g. foundation engineering). However, in contrast with standard geotechnical applications, undesired stresses applied by agricultural tyres/tracks are highly dynamic and last for very short times. Moreover, arable soils are typically unsaturated and contain important secondary structures (e.g. aggregates), factors important for affecting their soil mechanical behaviour. Mechanical processes in porous media are not only of concern in soil mechanics, but also in other fields including geophysics and granular material science. Despite similarity of basic mechanical processes, theoretical frameworks often differ and reflect disciplinary focus. We review concepts from different but complementary fields concerned with porous media mechanics and highlight opportunities for synergistic advances in understanding deformation and compaction of arable soils. We highlight the important role of technological advances in non-destructive measurement methods at pore (X-ray tomography) and soil profile (seismic) scales that not only offer new insights into soil architecture and enable visualization of soil deformation, but are becoming instrumental in the development and validation of new soil compaction models. The integration of concepts underlying dynamic processes that modify soil pore spaces and bulk properties will improve the understanding of how soil management affect vital soil mechanical, hydraulic and ecological functions supporting plant growth.
Soil and Tillage Research, 2013, Vol 128, p. 61-80