2010 - New Understanding of Water Flow in the Unsaturated Zone


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Water flow in the unsaturated zone is central to many applications and research topics in a many fields, for example agriculture, geophysics, hydrology, soil mechanics, waste disposal, and ecology. This course examines unsaturated flow and its present role in the geosciences, from the standpoint of basic theory and observational evidence. Diverse cases of unsaturated flow will be considered: diffuse and preferential, explainable and problematic, and in both soil and rock. Certain questions will be explored throughout the course: what does the actual evidence support, what can we do with that, and what new directions might be beneficial. Much of the material will be presented in a loosely historical-chronological format, for better highlighting of topical connections and perceiving the value of specific threads of development. With emphasis is on understanding and insight, this course is intended to complement other unsaturated flow courses that emphasize problem-solving and numerical models. Topics will be treated in terms of both practical value and research opportunities. Exercises will involve examination of particular research papers for answers and information, calculations and interpretation of measured data from various sites, and brief in-class summaries by individual students and informal groups.

The course summarizes (1) the history and basics of unsaturated-flow theory as currently accepted and used; (2) successes and supporting observational evidence; (3) shortcomings, unsolved problems, and contradictory evidence; and (4) recent techniques and developments with emphasis on multimodal flow models and source-responsive

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