Influence of Stone Content on Soil Hydraulic Properties: Experimental Investigation and Test of Existing Model Concepts

Studying the role of gravel, stones, or rock fragments on effective soil hydraulic properties (SHPs) is crucial for understanding and predicting soil water processes such as evaporation, redistribution, and water and solute transport through soils containing significant amounts of coarse inclusions. We conducted a laboratory study in which we investigated the effect of stones on the water retention and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity curves of soil–stone mixtures. Stony soils were created by packing predefined masses of soil particles (sand and sandy loam) with diameters <2 mm and crushed basalt (2–5 and 7–15 mm). The resulting mixtures ranged from 0 to 40% (v/v) stone content. The SHPs were determined with the simplified evaporation method. The measurements yielded plausible water retention and hydraulic conductivity curves across a wide moisture range. Results qualitatively showed the expected dependencies of SHPs on volumetric stone content, characterized by a reduction of soil water content and hydraulic conductivity across the whole pressure head range. Measured data suggested that coarse inclusions in soil tend to widen the effective pore-size distribution. Prediction of SHPs of the stony soils, performed by fitting a flexible SHP model to the data of the background soil and scaling it with approaches from the literature, worked well for low stone contents. However, for volumetric stone contents of 25 and 40%, measured SHPs differed substantially from the properties predicted by simple scaling models.


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