The role of contact angle on unstable flow formation during infiltration and drainage in wettable porous media

Rony Wallach*, Michal Margolis, Ellen R. Graber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The impact of contact angle on 2-D spatial and temporal water-content distribution during infiltration and drainage was experimentally studied. The 0.3-0.5 mm fraction of a quartz dune sand was treated and turned subcritically repellent (contact angle of 33°, 48°, 56°, and 75° for S33, S48, S56, and S75, respectively). The media were packed uniformly in transparent flow chambers and water was supplied to the surface as a point source at different rates (1-20 ml/min). A sequence of gray-value images was taken by CCD camera during infiltration and subsequent drainage; gray values were converted to volumetric water content by water volume balance. Narrow and long plumes with water accumulation behind the downward moving wetting front (tip) and negative water gradient above it (tail) developed in the S56 and S75 media during infiltration at lower water application rates. The plumes became bulbous with spatially uniform water-content distribution as water application rates increased. All plumes in these media propagated downward at a constant rate during infiltration and did not change their shape during drainage. In contrast, regular plume shapes were observed in the S33 and S48 media at all flow rates, and drainage profiles were nonmonotonic with a transition plane at the depth that water reached during infiltration. Given that the studied media have similar pore-size distributions, the conclusion is that imbibition hindered by the nonzero contact angle induced pressure buildup at the wetting front (dynamic water-entry value) that controlled the plume shape and internal water-content distribution during infiltration and drainage. Key Points Non-zero contact angle induces saturation overshoot in wettable media Contact angle induces sharp change in water content along the plumes perimeter Contact angle and water flux determine the plume dimension and size

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6508-6521
Number of pages14
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • fingering
  • point water source
  • saturation overshoot
  • subcritical repellency


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