Microscale water distribution and its effects on organic carbon decomposition in unsaturated soils Academic Article uri icon


  • Microscale water distribution in the subsurface is key to many geochemical and biogeochemical reactions. This study investigated microscale water distribution and movement in unsaturated soils using micro-continuum hydrodynamic models, and examined the effect of microscale water distribution on organic carbon (C) decomposition using a micro-continuum biogeochemical reaction model. The micro-continuum hydrodynamic model that relates capillary pressure to porosity captured the measured water imbibition curve at the core scale, and exhibited reasonable water distribution and movement at the microscale. The simulations of organic C decomposition illustrate that microscale water distribution strongly affected the distribution of C decomposition rates by regulating the availability of dissolved organic C and oxygen. Particularly, changes in water distribution altered the location and intensity of reactive hotspots and thereby CO2 flux from soils. The microscale interactions between water content and organic C decomposition rate provide underlying mechanisms for explaining macroscale phenomenon observed in laboratory and fields. Overall, this study presents a useful tool for explicating hydro-biogeochemical behaviors in the subsurface by integrating micro-continuum hydrodynamic and biogeochemical reaction modeling.

author list (cited authors)

  • Yan, Z., Wang, T., Wang, L., Yang, X., Smith, P., Hilpert, M., ... Liu, C.

citation count

  • 3

publication date

  • December 2018