Dynamics of soil aggregate coalescence governed by capillary and rheological processes

Ghezzehei, T. A. and Or, D.

Water Resources Research, vol. 36(2), pp. 367-379 , 2000.


The desired soil structure following tillage of agricultural soils is often unstable and susceptible to coalescence of aggregates and reduction of interaggregate porosity due to wetting and drying cycles. This process of aggregate rejoining was modeled by equating the rate of work done by liquid‐vapor menisci, to the rate of energy dissipation due to viscous deformation of a pair of spherical aggregates. The nonlinearity of wet soil viscous flow behavior was accounted for by introducing a Bingham rheological model. A natural outcome of the analysis was the formulation of a mathematical condition for the onset and termination of coalescence based on soil strength at specified water content. The condition states that sufficient energy in excess of soil strength (yield stress) must be available for coalescence to proceed. The rate of aggregate coalescence is proportional to available energy and is inversely related to the coefficient of plastic viscosity. Transport of wet soil to the periphery of the interaggregate contact by viscous flow leads to smoothing of the neck, resulting in pore closure, on the one hand, and restricting the minimum matric potential that can be achieved, on the other. The interplay between rheology and geometry prevent coalescence from proceeding indefinitely. Independently determined soil rheological properties were used to illustrate the use of the model. Coalescence under constant water content and during wetting‐drying cycles was calculated. Comparison of data from experiments on one‐dimensional, aggregate bed settlement has shown reasonable agreement with the model predictions.