Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

Mark Ross


arrival time, recharge progression, water table, wet equilibrium, wetting front


Estimating the quantity of water that reaches the water table following an infiltration event is vital for modeling and management of water resources. Estimating the time scale of groundwater recharge after a rainfall event is difficult because of the dependence on nonlinear soil characteristics and variability in antecedent conditions. Modeling the flow of water through the variably saturated zone is computationally intensive since it requires simulation of Richards' equation, a nonlinear partial differential equation without a closed-form analytical solution, with parametric relationships that are difficult to approximate. Hence, regional scale coupled (surface water - groundwater) hydrological models make simplistic assumptions about the quantity and timing of recharge following infiltration. For simplicity, such models assume the quantity of recharge to be a fraction of the total rainfall and the time to recharge the saturated groundwater is scaled proportionally to the depth to water table, in lieu of simulating computationally intensive flow in the variably saturated zone. In integrated or coupled (surface water - groundwater) regional scale hydrological models, better representation of the timing and quantity of groundwater recharge is required and important for water resources management. This dissertation presents a practical groundwater recharge estimation method and relationships that predict the timing and volume accumulation of groundwater recharge to moderate to deep water table settings.

This study combines theoretical, empirical, and simulation techniques to develop a relatively simple model to estimate the propagation of the soil moisture wetting front through variably saturated soil. This model estimates the time scale and progression of recharge following infiltration for a specified depth to water table, saturated hydraulic conductivity and equilibrium moisture condition. High-resolution soil moisture data from a set of experiments conducted in a laboratory soil column were used to calibrate the HYDRUS-1D model. The calibrated model was used to analyze the time scale of recharge by varying soil hydraulic properties and simulating the application of rainfall pulses of varying volume and intensities. Modeling results were used to develop an equation that relates the non-dimensional travel time of the wetting front to excess moisture moisture content above equilibrium. This research indicates that for a soil with a known retention curve, the wetting front arrival time at a given depth can be described by a power law, where the power is a function of the saturated hydraulic conductivity. This equation relates the non-dimensional travel time of the wetting front to excess moisture content above the equilibrium moisture content. Since the equilibrium moisture content is dependent on the water retention curve, the powers in the equation governing the timing of recharge depend on the saturated hydraulic conductivity for a large variation in water retention curve. Also, the power law relates recharge (normalized by applied pulse volume) to time (normalized by the time of arrival of wetting front at that depth). The resulting equations predicted the model simulated normalized (relative) recharge with root mean square errors of less than 14 percent for the tested cases.