Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil Engineering

Major Professor

Mahmood Nachabe, Ph.D.


air encapsulation, variable source area, soil storage, saturation excess


Rainfall-runoff modeling in the United States has made extensive use of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) curve number method for computing infiltration losses from rainfall. Even though the method is well established and may be applied to a wide range of environments, it often results in highly erroneous runoff estimates for shallow water table environments. Flat topography, wetlands, and fine sands are characteristics that make places like Florida very different from the environments where the SCS method was originally developed. The SCS method arose from experiments with soils that are dominated by infiltration excess (Hortonian mechanism), where runoff occurs after rainfall intensity exceeds the infiltration capacity of the soil. In contrast, Florida is likely dominated by saturation excess runoff (Dunne mechanism), where the soil storage capacity between a shallow water table and the ground surface is filled, and all remaining rainfall becomes runoff. The sandy soils of Florida have very high infiltration capacities, and thus infiltration excess is less likely than saturation excess. As a consequence of the saturation-excess mechanism, wetlands expand in the wet season as the soil moisture storage around the perimeter is filled.

A modified form of the SCS method is proposed with the objective that it is more suitable than the current method in flatly sloped, humid environments. Initial conditions, such as the pre-storm soil moisture profile and depth to water table, are critical when predicting runoff in these areas. Air encapsulation is addressed because its presence causes the soil storage capacity to be filled significantly faster than in its absence. Equations are presented that provide an estimate of the average depth to water table and average soil storage capacity in a catchment.

Two Florida catchments and one runoff test bed were selected for testing the new methodology. The runoff test bed demonstrated the saturation-excess mechanism while the catchments provided larger-scale testing of the method. Though more data is needed to fully assess the performance of the method, the approach offers a more plausible mechanism for runoff estimation in shallow water table environments with sandy soils.