Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Numerical solution of the one-dimensional Richards' equation is the recommended method for coupling groundwater to the atmosphere through the vadose zone in hyperresolution Earth system models, but requires fine spatial discretization, is computationally expensive, and may not converge due to mathematical degeneracy or when sharp wetting fronts occur. We transformed the one-dimensional Richards' equation into a new equation that describes the velocity of moisture content values in an unsaturated soil under the actions of capillarity and gravity. We call this new equation the Soil Moisture Velocity Equation (SMVE). The SMVE consists of two terms: an advection-like term that accounts for gravity and the integrated capillary drive of the wetting front, and a diffusion-like term that describes the flux due to the shape of the wetting front capillarity profile divided by the vertical gradient of the capillary pressure head. The SMVE advection-like term can be converted to a relatively easy to solve ordinary differential equation (ODE) using the method of lines and solved using a finite moisture-content discretization. Comparing against analytical solutions of Richards' equation shows that the SMVE advection-like term is >99% accurate for calculating infiltration fluxes neglecting the diffusion-like term. The ODE solution of the SMVE advection-like term is accurate, computationally efficient and reliable for calculating one-dimensional vadose zone fluxes in Earth system and large-scale coupled models of land-atmosphere interaction. It is also well suited for use in inverse problems such as when repeat remote sensing observations are used to infer soil hydraulic properties or soil moisture.
Please use the publisher's recommended citation. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017MS000931/full