Experimental evidence of lateral flow in unsaturated homogeneous isotropic sloping soil due to rainfall



[1] This paper describes laboratory experimental evidence for lateral flow in the top layer of unsaturated sloping soil due to rainfall. Water was applied uniformly on horizontal and V-shaped surfaces of fine sand, at rates about 100 times smaller than the saturated hydraulic conductivity. Flow regimes near the surface and in the soil bulk were studied by using dyes. Streamlines and streak lines and wetting fronts were visually studied and photographed through a vertical glass wall. Near wetting fronts the flow direction was always perpendicular to the fronts owing to dominant matrix potential gradients. Thus, during early wetting of dry sloping sand, the flow direction is directed upslope. Far above a wetting front the flow was vertical due to the dominance of gravity. Downslope flow was observed during decreasing rainfall and dry periods. The lateral movement was largest near the soil surface and decayed with soil depth. Unstable downslope lateral flow close to the soil surface was attributed to non-Darcian flow due to variable temporal and spatial raindrop distributions. The experiments verify the theory that predicts unsaturated downslope lateral flow in sloping soil due to rainfall dynamics only, without apparent soil texture difference or anisotropy. This phenomenon could have significant implications for hillside hydrology, desert agriculture, irrigation management, etc., as well as for the basic mechanisms of surface runoff and erosion.