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Modeling subsurface hydrology in floodplains

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Cristina M. Evans, David G. Dritschel, Michael B. Singer

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Soil-moisture patterns in floodplains are highly dynamic, owing to the complex relationships between soil properties, climatic conditions at the surface, and the position of the water table. Given this complexity, along with climate change scenarios in many regions, there is a need for a model to investigate the implications of different conditions on water availability to riparian vegetation. We present a model, HaughFlow, which is able to predict coupled water movement in the vadose and phreatic zones of hydraulically connected floodplains. Model output was calibrated and evaluated at 6 sites in Australia to identify key patterns in subsurface hydrology. This study identifies the importance of the capillary fringe in vadose zone hydrology due to its water storage capacity and creation of conductive pathways. Following peaks in water table elevation, water can be stored in the capillary fringe for up to months (depending on the soil properties). This water can provide a critical resource for vegetation that is unable to access the water table. When water table peaks coincide with heavy rainfall events, the capillary fringe can support saturation of the entire soil profile. HaughFlow is used to investigate the water availability to riparian vegetation, producing daily output of water content in the soil over decadal time periods within different depth ranges. These outputs can be summarised to support scientific investigations of plant-water relations, as well as in management applications.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1428-1459
Number of pages32
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
Early online date1 Mar 2018
StatePublished - Mar 2018

    Research areas

  • Subsurface hydrology, Mathematical modelling, Riparian soils, Riparian vegetation, Vadose zone, Capillary fringe

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