Variability of hydraulic conductivity due to multiple factors

Sanjit K. Deb, Manoj K. Shukla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Soil properties are greatly influenced by intrinsic factors of soil formation as well as extrinsic factors associated with land use and management and vary both in time and space. Intrinsic variability is caused by the pedogenesis and usually takes place at large time scales. The variability caused by extrinsic factors could take effect relatively quickly and could not be treated as regionalized. Saturated hydraulic conductivity is one of the most important soil properties for soil-water-plant interactions, water and contaminant movement and retention through the soil profile. It is a critically important parameter for estimation of various other soil hydrological parameters necessary for modeling flow through the naturally unsaturated vadose zone. Among different soil hydrological properties, saturated hydraulic conductivity is reported to have the greatest statistical variability, which is associated with soil types, land uses, positions on landscape, depths, instruments and methods of measurement and experimental errors. The variability of saturated hydraulic conductivity has a profound influence on the overall hydrology of the soil system. Therefore, focus of this review is centered on the variability of saturated/unsaturated hydraulic conductivity due to a large number of factors. This study reviews recent experimental and field studies addressing the measurements and variability of hydraulic conductivity. A synthesis of a large amount of data available in literature is presented and the possible sources of the variability and its implications are discussed. The variability of a soil hydraulic conductivity can be expressed by range, interquartile range, variance and standard deviation, coefficient of variation, skewness and kurtosis. The spatial and temporal variability of hydraulic conductivity and the influences of sample support, measurement devices/methods, soils, land uses and agricultural management on hydraulic conductivity are evaluated. Methods of measurements strongly impact variability, for example, saturated hydraulic conductivity measured using a single ring may produce significantly different mean and standard errors than those measured using a double ring. The sample support can also influence the variability, for example, increasing or decreasing the size of the infiltrometer rings can change the mean and variability of the saturated hydraulic conductivity. Similarly, hydraulic conductivity measured in the field could show a much larger variability than those measured in the laboratory. The spatial and temporal variations of hydraulic conductivity and interactions among soil characteristics, land uses, agricultural management, climatic and environmental conditions and measurement methods are rather complex, which should take into account multiple factors discussed in this review. Decisions and choices made by investigators during sampling, sampling designs, availability of resources, number of investigators involved in sampling and analysis, skill level of investigators, type and quality of tools and equipments used to collect samples and analyses, scale of the domain, availability of time, accessibility of sites, criteria of success and assumptions made for the sampling and analysis have profound influence on the variability of hydraulic conductivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-502
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Environmental Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2012


  • Hydraulic Conductivity
  • Measurement of Hydraulic Conductivity
  • Spatial Variability
  • Temporal Variability
  • Variability of Hydraulic Conductivity


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