The vadose zone was examined as an environmental compartment where significant quantities of atrazine and its degradation compounds may be stored and transformed. The vadose zone was targeted because regional studies in the White River Basin indicated a large discrepancy between the mass of atrazine applied to fields and the amount of the pesticide and its degradation compounds that are measured in ground and surface water. A study site was established in a rotationally cropped field in the till plain of central Indiana. Data were gathered during the 1994 growing season to characterize the site hydrogeology and the distribution of atrazine, desethylatrazine, deisopropylatrazine, didealkylatrazine and hydroxyatrazine in runoff, pore water, and ground water. The data indicated that atrazine and its degradation compounds were transported from land surface to a depth of 1.5 m within 60 days of application, but were undetected in the saturated zone at nearby monitoring wells. A numerical model was developed, based on the field data, to provide information about processes that could retain and degrade atrazine in the vadose zone. Simulations indicated that evapotranspiration is responsible for surface directed soil-moisture flow during much of the growing season. This process causes retention and degradation of atrazine in the vadose zone. Increased residence time in the vadose zone leads to nearly complete transformation of atrazine and its degradation products to unquantified degradation compounds. As a result of macropore flow, small quantities of atrazine and its degradation compounds may reach the saturated zone.