Impact of macropores and gravel outcrops on phosphorus leaching at the plot scale in silt loam soils

D. M. Heeren, G. A. Fox, C. J. Penn, T. Halihan, D. E. Storm, B. E. Haggard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In response to increased nutrient loads in surface waters, scientists and engineers need to identify critical nutrient source areas and transport mechanisms within a catchment to protect beneficial uses of aquatic systems in a costeffective manner. It was hypothesized that hydrologic heterogeneities (e.g., macropores and gravel outcrops) in the vadose zone play an integral role in affecting flow and solute transport between the soil surface and shallow alluvial aquifers. The objective of this research was to characterize phosphorus (P) leaching through silt loam soils to alluvial gravel aquifers in the floodplains of the Ozark ecoregion at the plot scale. Solute injection experiments used plots (1 m 1 m, 3 m 3 m, and 10 m 10 m) that maintained a constant head for up to 52 h. Solutes in the injection water included P (highly sorptive), Rhodamine WT (slightly sorptive), and chloride (conservative). Electrical resistivity imaging identified zones of preferential flow. Fluid samples from observation wells indicated nonuniform subsurface flow and transport. The surface soil type, ranging from silt loam to clean gravel outcrops, had a significant impact on P leaching capacity, with gravel outcrops resulting in high infiltration rates and rapid solute detection in wells (e.g., 4 min). Even in silt loam soils without gravel outcrops, macropore flow resulted in rapid transport of P. Maximum transport velocity for soluble reactive P in one silt loam plot was 810 cm h-1, compared with a mean pore water velocity in the range of 25 to 130 cm h-1. Soluble reactive P concentrations in observation wells reached up to 0.54 mg L-1 in silt loam plots and 1.3 mg L-1 in gravel outcrop plots, demonstrating that a highly sorbing solute can be mobile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)823-835
Number of pages13
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017


  • Gravel outcrop
  • Leaching
  • Macropores
  • Ozark ecoregion
  • Phosphorus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


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