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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Soil properties and susceptibility to preferential solute transport in tilled topsoil at the catchment scale

Ghafoor, Abdul; Koestel, Johannes; Larsbo, Mats; Moeys, Julien; Jarvis, Nicholas


Preferential water flow and solute transport can have dramatic effects on the leaching of contaminants to groundwater and surface waters (via subsurface drainage) and is therefore of major concern to policy and decision-makers in the realm of water resources management. Unfortunately, we cannot measure these processes at the landscape scales that are relevant for management (farms, catchments, regions), which implies that an approach based on pedotransfer functions is needed to support model predictions. However, the extent to which susceptibility to preferential solute transport can be predicted from proxy site and soil attributes that can be observed and mapped at the landscape scale is still largely unknown. We therefore carried out non-reactive solute breakthrough experiments on 45 topsoil columns sampled from the contrasting soil types found in a 13 km(2) agricultural catchment in Sweden. Non-parametric indicators of preferential solute transport were derived from the shapes of the solute breakthrough curves and related to soil physical and hydraulic properties measured in the same columns. The results showed that preferential transport was weakly (and negatively) correlated with the saturated macropore hydraulic conductivity. In contrast, it was much more strongly controlled by the size of the largest water-filled pore, which in turn was significantly correlated to the saturated hydraulic conductivity of the soil matrix and soil textural classes. Preferential transport was also weakly expressed in three fine-textured soils of large organic carbon content. We conclude that the spatial pattern of preferential transport across the studied catchment should show a clear deterministic component since it depended on soil properties (e.g. clay content) that are expressed relatively uniformly across larger areas of land. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Macropores; Breakthrough curve; Hydraulic conductivity; Solute transport; Cultivated soil; Organic carbon

Published in

Journal of Hydrology
2013, Volume: 492, pages: 190-199