Quantifying nonisothermal subsurface soil water evaporation
Accurate quantification of energy and mass transfer during soil water evaporation is critical for improving understanding of the hydrologic cycle and for many environmental, agricultural, and engineering applications. Drying of soil under radiation boundary conditions results in formation of a dry surface layer (DSL), which is accompanied by a shift in the position of the latent heat sink from the surface to the subsurface. Detailed investigation of evaporative dynamics within this active near-surface zone has mostly been limited to modeling, with few measurements available to test models. Soil column studies were conducted to quantify nonisothermal subsurface evaporation profiles using a sensible heat balance (SHB) approach. Eleven-needle heat pulse probes were used to measure soil temperature and thermal property distributions at the millimeter scale in the near-surface soil. Depth-integrated SHB evaporation rates were compared with mass balance evaporation estimates under controlled laboratory conditions. The results show that the SHB method effectively measured total subsurface evaporation rates with only 0.01–0.03 mm h−1difference from mass balance estimates. The SHB approach also quantified millimeter-scale nonisothermal subsurface evaporation profiles over a drying event, which has not been previously possible. Thickness of the DSL was also examined using measured soil thermal conductivity distributions near the drying surface. Estimates of the DSL thickness were consistent with observed evaporation profile distributions from SHB. Estimated thickness of the DSL was further used to compute diffusive vapor flux. The diffusive vapor flux also closely matched both mass balance evaporation rates and subsurface evaporation rates estimated from SHB.