Water films and scaling of soil characteristic curves at low water contents



[1] Individual contributions of capillarity and adsorptive surface forces to the matric potential are seldom differentiated in determination of soil water characteristic (SWC) curves. Typically, capillary forces dominate at the wet end, whereas adsorptive surface forces dominate at the dry end of a SWC where water is held as thin liquid films. The amount of adsorbed soil water is intimately linked to soil specific surface area (SA) and plays an important role in various biological and transport processes in arid environments. Dominated by van der Waals adsorptive forces, surface-water interactions give rise to a nearly universal scaling relationship for SWC curves at low water contents. We demonstrate that scaling measured water content at the dry end by soil specific surface area yields remarkable similarity across a range of soil textures and is in good agreement with theoretical predictions based on van der Waals interactions. These scaling relationships are important for accurate description of SWC curves in dry soils and may provide rapid and reliable estimates of soil specific surface area from SWC measurements for matric potentials below ‒10 MPa conveniently measured with the chilled-mirror dew point technique. Surface area estimates acquired by fitting the scaling relationship to measured SWC data were in good agreement with SA data measured by standard methods. Preliminary results suggest that the proposed method could provide reliable SA estimates for natural soils with hydratable surface areas smaller than 200 m2/g.