Understanding the movement of cations in soil, particularly trace metals, is required in many applications such as phytoremediation and pollution control. A dynamic mechanistic model has been developed to describe the long-term root uptake of a surface-applied, strongly adsorbed, pollutant metal cation, such as radiocaesium, from soil. It consists of two submodels. The first calculates uptake per unit root length at a local scale over a root's lifetime, for various initial conditions. The second calculates cumulative uptake at a whole-plant scale for the entire rooting depth as a function of time. The model takes into account the renewal of roots which are considered to have a limited lifetime. Root density may be a function of soil depth and a proportion of roots need not contribute to uptake. Recycling from decaying, or grazed, roots and shoots is considered.

Simulations show that removal of cations from soil is exaggerated unless some recycling by roots or shoots is considered or the entire root length does not contribute to uptake. Because of root turnover, uptake is not rapidly limited by diffusive flux of the cation from the bulk soil solution to the solution–root interface. Uptake is very sensitive to root architecture and plant physiology.