Desiccation-crack-induced salinization in deep clay sediment
A study on water infiltration and solute transport in a clayey vadose zone underlying a dairy farm waste source was conducted to assess the impact of desiccation cracks on subsurface evaporation and salinization. The study is based on five years of continuous measurements of the temporal variation in the vadose zone water content and on the chemical and isotopic composition of the sediment and pore water in it. The isotopic composition of water stable isotopes (δ 18O and δ 2H) in water and sediment samples, from the area where desiccation crack networks prevail, indicated subsurface evaporation down to ~ 3.5 m below land surface, and vertical and lateral preferential transport of water, following erratic preferential infiltration events. Chloride (Cl −) concentrations in the vadose zone pore water substantially increased with depth, evidence of deep subsurface evaporation and down flushing of concentrated solutions from the evaporation zones during preferential infiltration events. These observations led to development of a desiccation-crack-induced salinization (DCIS) conceptual model. DCIS suggests that thermally driven convective air flow in the desiccation cracks induces evaporation and salinization in relatively deep sections of the subsurface. This conceptual model supports previous conceptual models on vadose zone and groundwater salinization in fractured rock in arid environments and extends its validity to clayey soils in semi-arid environments.