Experimental characterization of the impact of temperature and humidity on the breakdown of soil water repellency in sandy soils and composts

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Soil water repellency is a widespread phenomenon with the capacity to alter hydrological and geomorphological processes. Water repellency decays with time, and the consequences are only of concern during the timescale at which the water repellency persists. This study aimed to characterize the influence of temperature and humidity on the breakdown of water repellency. Apparent contact angle measurements were carried out on samples consisting of sand treated with stearic acid as well as naturally repellent dune sands and composts. Temperature and humidity were controlled using a cooled incubator and a purpose designed enclosed box in which humidity could be raised or lowered.


Results showed the contact angle of the stearic-acid-treated sands decayed with time and that there was a significant increase with stearic acid concentration. For all samples, the decay in apparent contact angle could be described with a continuous breakdown model. The stearic-acid-treated sands showed a significant increase in contact angle with relative humidity at a temperature of 10 and 20 °C. These differences diminished with increasing temperature. Similar results were seen for the dune sands and composts. Despite the influence of temperature and humidity on contact angles, there was no significant change in the rate at which the contact angle decayed in any sample. Absolute humidity was found to provide a more relevant indicator than relative humidity when assessing the influence of humidity on repellency over a range of temperatures. The contact angle initially increased with absolute humidity before plateauing owing to the confounding effect of temperature. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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