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Flow and Transport in Soil-Plant Systems

The general research topic of our division is water and energy flow and transport of dissolved substances in the subsurface. Our research aims at a process understanding of these subsurface phenomena and their coupling with processes in the atmosphere. The processes in the subsurface and their coupling with the atmosphere are strongly related to structure and organization of the system. A hierarchy of structures exists at different scales and when investigating the system’s behavior at a certain scale, the impact of smaller scale structures that cannot be resolved in detail at the larger scale must be represented properly in the structure and parameterization of the model that is used to describe and quantify processes at the larger scale. In this research unit we focus on the scale of a field, which can be considered as the unit cell of landscape management, and resolve the effect of structures and heterogeneities within this ‘unit-cell’ on processes and their coupling with the atmospheric compartment. Our research contributes to an effective parameterization of the unit cells or grid cells that are used in larger scale models (hydrological models, regional scale meteorological and climate models).

Structures and heterogeneities under consideration:

Plants play an important role in this coupling since a substantial amount of water that infiltrates in the subsurface is returned back to the atmosphere via root water uptake and plant transpiration. Therefore, we aim at an integrated approach which couples process understanding in the different compartments of the groundwater-soil-plant-atmosphere system. This process understanding is a prerequisite for an optimal and sustainable land management which reconciles crop production with the protection of soil and groundwater resources.
To obtain insight, we apply and develop new techniques to monitor and visualize processes in the plant/soil/aquifer system, with special emphasis on non-invasive techniques. This process knowledge is used for developing and refining ‘high resolution’ process models that predict processes in plant/soil/aquifer systems and that can be used to evaluate the impact of e.g. land use and land management changes on soil and groundwater resources.

Prof. Dr. Andrea Schnepf