Effects of soil heterogeneity and preferential flow on the water flow and isotope transport in an experimental hillslope

Xuegao Chen, Zhongbo Yu, Peng Yi, Hyoun Tae Hwang, Edward A. Sudicky, Tiantian Tang, Ala Aldahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil water movement plays vital roles in hillslope runoff generation and groundwater and surface water interaction. However, there are still knowledge gaps about the impacts of soil heterogeneity and preferential flow on the internal water flow and transport process. In this study, the vertical soil heterogeneity focused on the variations in soil retention capacity, and the consideration of lateral preferential flow emphasized the higher hydraulic conductivity. We combined isotopic tracing and numerical modeling in an artificial hillslope, focusing on monitored processes of the artificial rainfall and isotopic tracing experiment. The results showed that the soil moisture quickly accumulated at the bottom of the hillslope during rainfall events, while the 2H enrichment occurred in the topsoil derived from enriched isotope injection in the second artificial rainfall. The evaporation process slowed down the mixing of new water in the topsoil and old water in the lower layer. We found that the vertical soil heterogeneity had significant influences on the internal water and isotope transport paths within the hillslope. The lateral preferential flow played an important role in the water flux and transport time to the seepage face. The coupling of isotopic tracing, which reflects the water transport and mixing with the hillslope, effectively improved the model simulation and mechanism analysis of hillslope water flow. Our findings provide new insights into the mechanisms governing soil water flow and transport dynamics in hillslopes, taking into account vertical soil heterogeneity and lateral preferential flow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number170548
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Mar 20 2024


  • HGS model
  • Integrated approach
  • Isotopic tracing
  • Preferential flow
  • Soil heterogeneity
  • Soil water flow and transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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