Linking principles of soil formation and flow regimes

Henry Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Preferential flow (PF) is a fundamentally important soil hydrologic process that controls a variety of soil physical, chemical, and biological functions. However, the lack of theory in this field and the existence of conceptual and technological bottlenecks continue to hinder the advancement of PF modeling and prediction. This paper explores three theoretical perspectives on the relationships between pedogenesis and flow regimes in field soils. First, we examine non-equilibrium thermodynamics as applied to open dissipative field soils with continuous energy inputs and mass exchanges with the surrounding environment. The dual-partitioning of pedogenesis (dissipating and organizing processes) is consistent with the theory of dissipative structure, which explains the genesis and evolution of soil architecture (structure. +. matrix) and organized heterogeneity found in various soils. Such organized heterogeneity leads to widespread potential for PF occurrence. Second, we investigate constructal theory to explain the tendency for dual-flow regimes in soils - one with high resistivity (Darcy flow) and the other with low resistivity (PF) - together, they form PF configuration that provides the least global flow resistance. This theory is applied to explain some general characteristics of weathering processes and related flow regime changes, which are supported by limited chronologic data from the literature on subsoil's saturated hydraulic conductivity decrease after a soil reaches a certain age. Third, the theory of evolving networks sheds light on a variety of PF networks observed in field soils, which increase the effectiveness of energy and mass transfer in the subsurface. This is because networks are a part of the organization resulting from the minimum energy dissipation principle and far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics. All the three theories discussed support the notion that the potential for PF occurrence in field soils is likely universal. However, controversies and challenges associated with these theories require further efforts to rigorously test their applicability in natural soils and to formulate explicit quantitative relationships between PF occurrence and its controls. The principle of soil formation and evolution provides a useful guide to this endeavor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-19
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 27 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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