A mesoscale model of desiccation of soil based on the evolution of the pore system idealized as bimodal is numerically examined. A simplified evolution of the model reveals a series of characteristics that qualitatively agree with the observed macroscopic experimental findings. The principal mechanism is deemed to be driven by the surface evaporation and water outflow generating a pore pressure gradient resulting in the shrinkage mainly of the largest pores. The amount of shrinkage is a function of (negative) pore pressure and is controlled by the compressibility of the solid matrix. The numerical model includes also the ensuing partial saturation stage initiated by the air entry simulated as a scenario with a moving phase interface inside the pore. The proposed model can be extended beyond the two-mode porosity soils, to include the multi-modal porosity, or its statistical representation.Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.