Soil Structure - A Neglected Component of Land-Surface Models

S. Fatichi, D. Or, R. L. Walko, H. Vereecken, S. J. Kollet, M. Young, T. A. Ghezzehei, T. Hengl, N. Agam, R. Avissar

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Soil structure is largely absent in most standard sampling and measurements and in the subsequent parameterization of soil hydraulic properties deduced from soil maps and used in Earth System Models. The apparent omission propagates into the pedotransfer functions that deduce parameters of soil hydraulic properties primarily from soil textural information. Such simple parameterization is an essential ingredient in the practical application of any land surface model. Despite the critical role of soil structure (biopores formed by decaying roots, aggregates, etc.) in defining soil hydraulic functions, only a few studies have attempted to incorporate soil structure into models. They mostly looked at the effects on preferential flow and solute transport pathways at the soil profile scale; yet, the role of soil structure in mediating large-scale fluxes remains understudied. Here, we focus on rectifying this gap and demonstrating potential impacts on surface and subsurface fluxes and system wide eco-hydrologic responses. The study proposes a systematic way for correcting the soil water retention and hydraulic conductivity functions—accounting for soil-structure—with major implications for near saturated hydraulic conductivity. Modification to the basic soil hydraulic parameterization is assumed as a function of biological activity summarized by Gross Primary Production. A land-surface model with dynamic vegetation is used to carry out numerical simulations with and without the role of soil-structure for 20 locations characterized by different climates and biomes across the globe. Including soil structure affects considerably the partition between infiltration and runoff and consequently leakage at the base of the soil profile (recharge). In several locations characterized by wet climates, a few hundreds of mm per year of surface runoff become deep-recharge accounting for soil-structure. Changes in energy fluxes, total evapotranspiration and vegetation productivity are less significant but they can reach up to 10% in specific locations. Significance for land-surface and hydrological modeling and implications for distributed domains are discussed.
Original languageEnglish GB
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • 0414 Biogeochemical cycles
  • processes
  • and modeling
  • 0439 Ecosystems
  • structure and dynamics
  • 1813 Eco-hydrology
  • 1843 Land/atmosphere interactions


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