701-0535-00L  Environmental Soil Physics/Vadose Zone Hydrology

SemesterAutumn Semester 2023
LecturersA. Carminati, P. U. Lehmann Grunder
Periodicityyearly recurring course
Language of instructionEnglish


701-0535-00 VEnvironmental Soil Physics/Vadose Zone Hydrology2 hrs
Wed16:15-18:00CHN E 46 »
A. Carminati, P. U. Lehmann Grunder
701-0535-00 UEnvironmental Soil Physics/Vadose Zone Hydrology1 hrs
Wed18:15-19:00CHN E 46 »
A. Carminati, P. U. Lehmann Grunder

Catalogue data

AbstractThe course provides theoretical and practical foundations for understanding and characterizing physical and transport properties of soils/ near-surface earth materials, and quantifying hydrological processes and fluxes of mass and energy at multiple scales.
ObjectiveStudents are able to:
-Characterize the different soils based on their key textural and structural properties.
-Simulate and predict soil water retention and flow under varying environmental conditions and understand the key driving forces (capillarity, gravity, friction) and related water properties (surface tension and viscosity).
-Predict soil hydraulic properties for varying soil textural classes.
-Predict solute transport in soils for varying environmental conditions.
-Predict energy balance and temperature dynamics in soils.
-Predict conditions for plant water stress
ContentWeek 1 (September 20): Introduction, content, structure of the course, objectives, bibliography, grading and evaluation; soil texture, particle size distribution, soil structure, soil surface area, porosity and bulk density

Week 2 (September 27): Pore scale consideration (water in a single pore), pore sizes and shapes; surface tension; Young-Laplace equation; capillary rise; contact angle

Week 3 (October 04): Friction and laminar flow; Hagen-Poiseuille’s law; Washburn equation; numerical lab (including report; report 1)

Week 4 (October 11): Soil water content; soil water potential - The energy state of soil water; total water potential and its components; volumetric and gravimetric water contents; field capacity and wilting point

Week 5 (October 18): Soil water characteristics - definitions and measurements; parametric models, fitting and interpretation, hysteresis; parameters)

Week 6 (October 25): Saturated water flow in soils - Laminar flow in tubes (Poiseuille's Law); Darcy's Law, conditions and states of flow; permeability and hydraulic conductivity, measurement and theoretical concepts (Kozeny-Carman); effective conductivity; unsaturated hydraulic conductivity; Buckingham law. Unsaturated water flow in soils - Unsaturated hydraulic conductivity models and applications; Richards equation,

Week 7 (November 01): Lab tour -demonstration of soil physical methods; lecture on HYPROP method; report on Hyprop data (report 2)

Week 8 (November 08): Analytical description of unsaturated flow - steady state solutions for evaporation and infiltration; approximate solutions to infiltration (Green-Ampt, Philip); outlook on unstable and preferential flow

Week 9 (November 15): Numerical solution of Richards equation – Using Hydrus1D for simulation of unsaturated flow; simulating HYPROP measurements (report 3)

Week 10 (November 22): Energy balance and land atmosphere interactions - energy balance and heat flow; evapotranspiration, potential and actual evaporation, evaporation stages; thermal properties of soils

Week 11 (November 29): Root water uptake and transpiration – Theory and mechanisms controlling root water uptake; hydraulic properties of rhizosphere; plant and stomatal conductance.

Week 12 (November 06): Modeling root water uptake and transpiration; analytical approaches and modeling using Hydrus (report 4)

Week 13 (December 13): Solute and gas transport in soils - Transport mechanisms of solutes in porous media; breakthrough curves; convection-dispersion equation; solutions for pulse and step solute application; parameter estimation.

Week 14 (December 20): Summary, course synthesis, connections between the different topics, questions, old exam
LiteratureSupplemental textbook (not mandatory) -Introduction to Environmental Soil Physics, by: D. Hillel
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesassessed
Techniques and Technologiesassessed
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesassessed
Social CompetenciesCommunicationfostered
Cooperation and Teamworkfostered
Personal CompetenciesAdaptability and Flexibilityfostered
Creative Thinkingfostered
Critical Thinkingfostered
Integrity and Work Ethicsfostered
Self-awareness and Self-reflection fostered
Self-direction and Self-management fostered

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits3 credits
ExaminersA. Carminati, P. U. Lehmann Grunder
Typeend-of-semester examination
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionA repetition date will be offered in the first two weeks of the semester immediately consecutive.
Mode of examinationoral 30 minutes

Learning materials

No public learning materials available.
Only public learning materials are listed.


No information on groups available.


There are no additional restrictions for the registration.

Offered in

Agricultural Sciences MasterFunctioning of Soil SystemsWInformation
Earth and Climate Sciences BachelorElectivesWInformation
MAS in Sustainable Water ResourcesElective CoursesWInformation
Environmental Engineering MasterEM: SoilWInformation
Environmental Sciences BachelorBiogeochemistryWInformation
Environmental Sciences BachelorSoil SciencesWInformation
Environmental Sciences BachelorForest and LandscapeWInformation
Environmental Sciences MasterHydrology and Water CycleWInformation