Detecting infiltrated water and preferential flow pathways through time-lapse ground-penetrating radar surveys

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Jul 15;726:138511. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138511. Epub 2020 Apr 7.


The objective of this paper was to identify the incidence and extent of preferential flow at two experimental areas located in Lyon, France. We used time-lapse ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys in conjunction with automatized single-ring infiltration experiments to create three-dimensional (3D) representations of infiltrated water. In total we established three 100 cm × 100 cm GPR grids and used differenced radargrams from pre- and post-infiltration surveys to detect wetting patterns. The analyzed time-lapse GPR surveys revealed the linkage between nonuniform flow and heterogeneous soil structures and plant roots. At the first experimental area, subsurface coarse gravels acted as capillary barriers that concentrated flow into narrow pathways via funneled flow. At the second experimental area, the interpolated 3D patterns closely matched direct observation of dyed patterns, thereby validating the applied protocol. They also highlighted the important role of plant roots in facilitating preferential water movement through the subsurface. The protocol presented in this study represents a valuable tool for improving the hydraulic characterization of highly heterogeneous soils, while also alleviating some of the excessive experimental efforts currently needed to detect preferential flow pathways in the field.

Keywords: GPR; Infiltrometer; Non-Newtonian fluid; Nonuniform flow; Water infiltration; Wetting zone.