American Society of Civil Engineers

Measurement of Subsurface Unsaturated Hydraulic Conductivity

by D. F. Holland, (Res. Assoc., Dept. of Agric. and Biosystems Engrg., Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721), M. Yitayew, M.ASCE, (Assoc. Prof., Dept. of Agric. and Biosystems Engrg., Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. E-mail:, and A. W. Warrick, (Prof., Dept. of Soil, Water, and Envir. Sci., Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. E-mail:

Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering, Vol. 126, No. 1, January/February 2000, pp. 21-27, (doi:

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Document type: Journal Paper
Abstract: Measurement of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity is needed for precise control of water and solutes in the vadose zone. Because of the spatial variation of soils, a large number of surface and subsurface measurements are needed to characterize a field. In this work, permeameters were developed and tested for estimating subsurface unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. The permeameters apply water under tension; they are easy to use and have adequate accuracy. Unsaturated hydraulic conductivity was determined by measuring the steady flow rates for various values of negative pressure. Tests using a soil of known hydraulic conductivity showed that the permeameters provided valid measurements. Two types were used, a porous cloth model that was inflated against the soil and a porous ceramic cup that was rigid. The field testing determined that a rigid design using a ceramic cup coupled to the soil by a layer of fine sand was easier to use, was reliable, and provided good results.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Hydraulic conductivity
Unsaturated flow
Subsurface environment
Vadose zone
Water flow