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U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program--Proceedings of the Technical Meeting, Colorado Springs, Colorado, September 20-24, 1993, Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4015

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Spatial Variability of Unsaturated-Zone Properties in Relation to Topography in a Sand-Plain Setting near Princeton, Minnesota

by

G.N. Delin (U.S. Geological Survey, Mounds View, Minn.), M.K. Landon (U.S. Geological Survey, Mounds View, Minn.), R.W. Healy (U.S. Geological Survey, Lakewood, Colo.), and H.W. Olsen (U.S. Geological Survey, Golden, Colo.)

Abstract

The spatial distribution of preferential flow paths and unsaturated-zone properties in two topographic settings were determined from a dye-tracing and trenching study done at the Management Systems Evaluation Area (MSEA) near Princeton, Minnesota. The topographic settings are upland and lowland sites about 78 m (meters) apart that differ in elevation by 1.4 m. A 3 percent solution of rhodamine-WT dye was applied uniformly as a tracer to a 3.5- by 6-m area at both sites at 10-day intervals from July 5 through September 13, 1991. After application of the dye, a 3- by 2-m trench was dug to a depth of 2 m in the middle of each dye-application area to locate the dye and to collect soil samples.

Water samples were collected periodically from a multiport well, located 2.5 m horizontally downgradient of each dye-application area, to estimate the time-of-travel of recharge water through the unsaturated zone. The dye was first detected in ground water about 100 days after application. On the basis of average ground-water velocity at the Princeton MSEA of 10 cm/d (centimeters per day), the transport velocity of dye through the unsaturated zone was calculated to be 3.7 cm/d at the lowland site and 5.3 cm/d at the upland site. The dye moved 2 m vertically through the saturated zone over a horizontal distance of about 9 m, whereas a steady-state ground-water-flow model predicted less than 0.2 m of vertical movement.

A total of about 450 soil samples were collected from the sides and bottom of the trenches for analyses of bulk density, dye fluorescence, grain-size distribution, hydraulic conductivity, moisture-retention characteristics, organic-carbon content, and volumetric moisture content. The distribution of dye through the unsaturated zone was highly variable at the upland and lowland sites. Dye movement was greatest beneath the furrows and least beneath the corn rows. Preliminary results indicate the dye moved preferentially in response to tillage patterns (corn rows and furrows), microtopography, presence of plant roots, differences in total organic carbon, and coarser-grained heterogeneities in the unsaturated zone. Visible dye distribution did not correlate strongly with bulk density, saturated hydraulic conductivity, moisture-retention characteristics, and volumetric moisture content.

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