The hydraulic properties near saturation can change dramatically due to the presence of macropores that are usually difficult to handle in traditional pore size models. The purpose of this study is to establish a data set on hydraulic conductivity near saturation, test the predictive capability of commonly used hydraulic conductivity models and give suggestions for improved models. Water retention and near saturated and saturated hydraulic conductivity were measured for a variety of 81 top and subsoils. The hydraulic conductivity models by van Genuchten [van Genuchten, 1980. A closed-form equation for predicting the hydraulic conductivity of unsaturated soils. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 44, 892–898.] (vGM) and Brooks and Corey, modified by Jarvis [Jarvis, 1991. MACRO—A Model of Water Movement and Solute Transport in Macroporous Soils. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Department of Soil Sciences. Reports and Dissertations 9.] were optimised to describe the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity in the range measured. Different optimisation procedures were tested. Using the measured saturated hydraulic conductivity in the vGM model tends to overestimate the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. Optimising a matching factor (k0) improved the fit considerably whereas optimising the l-parameter in the vGM model improved the fit only slightly. The vGM was improved with an empirical scaling function to account for the rapid increase in conductivity near saturation. Using the improved models, it was possible to describe both the saturated and the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity better than a previously published model by Jarvis. The pore size boundary of the macropores was found at a capillary pressure of −4 hPa corresponding to a circular pore diameter of 750 μm.
Journal of Hydrology, 2006, Vol 324, Issue 1-4, p. 40-50