Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil Engineering

Major Professor

Mark A. Ross, Ph.D.


Shallow water table, Evapotranspiration, Extinction depth, Root water uptake, Variable specific yield


This dissertation focuses on a variety of vadose zone processes that impact water table fluctuations. The development of vadose zone process conceptualization has been limited due to both the lack of recognition of the importance of the vadose zone and the absence of suitable field data. Recent studies have, however, shown that vadose zone soil moisture dynamics, especially in shallow water table environments, can have a significant effect on processes such as infiltration, recharge to the water table, and evapotranspiration. This dissertation, hence, attempts to elucidate approaches for modeling vadose zone soil moisture dynamics. The ultimate objective is to predict different vertical and horizontal hydrological fluxes. The first part of the dissertation demonstrates a new methodology using soil moisture and water table data collected along a flow transect.

The methodology was found to be successful in the estimation of hydrological fluxes such as evapotranspiration, infiltration, runoff, etc. The observed dataset was also used to verify an exponential model developed to quantify the ground water component of total evapotranspiration. This analysis was followed by a study which analyzed the impact of soil moisture variability in the vadose zone on water table fluctuations. It was found that antecedent soil moisture conditions in the vadose zone greatly affected the specific yield values, causing a broad range of water table fluctuations for similar boundary fluxes. Hence, use of a constant specific yield value can produce inaccurate results. Having gained insight into the process of evapotranspiration and specific yield, a threshold based model to determine evapotranspiration and subsequent water table fluctuation was conceptualized and validated.

A discussion of plant root water uptake and its impact on vadose zone soil moisture dynamics is presented in the latter half of this dissertation. A methodology utilizing soil moisture and water table data to determine the root water uptake from different sections of roots is also described. It was found that, unlike traditional empirical root water uptake models, the uptake was not only proportional to the root fraction, but was also dependent on the ambient soil moisture conditions. A modeling framework based on root hydraulic characteristics is provided as well. Lastly, a preliminary analysis of observed data indicated that, under certain field conditions, air entrapment and air pressurization can significantly affect the observed water table values. A modeling technique must be developed to correct such observations.