Water Resources Research

Comparison of confined and unconfined infiltration in transparent porous media


Corresponding author: G. A. Siemens, Department of Civil Engineering, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, ON K7K 7B4, Canada. (siemens@rmc.ca)


[1] Infiltration is often assumed to occur with little or no impedance from the air within the vadose zone. If this assumption is not valid air counterflow may occur, while the infiltration rate and degree of saturation within the transmission zone may be significantly reduced. Accurate predictions of infiltration rates are important for applications such as moisture balance calculations and predictions of pore water pressures in landslide triggering. Existing results for confined infiltration show contradictory evidence for either air pressure remaining at a threshold or continual increase of air pressure. In this paper, the effect of air entrapment is investigated in the laboratory using recently developed techniques of unsaturated transparent porous media and digital photograph interpretation. These techniques enable the full saturation profile to be quantified every 5 s. The experimental data are used to quantify the decrease in infiltration rate and degree of saturation within the transmission zone in the confined infiltration, to accurately locate the wetting front, and to assess the stability of the wetting front. The results confirm previous observations in which infiltration in an open system was observed to occur significantly faster than in a closed system. However, in this study, the air pressure ahead of the wetting front was observed to reach a threshold value, which was a function of the ponding height and suction at the wetting front. A Green-Ampt infiltration model based on this observation of air confinement was observed to provide a better fit to the experimental data than the one based on the continual increase in air pressure assumption.