A three dimensional numerical investigation of hillslope flow processes

  • Andrew M. Binley

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Physically based distributed models of catchment hydrology are likely to be made available as engineering tools in the near future. Although these models are based on theoretically acceptable equations of continuity, there are still limitations in the present modelling strategy. Of interest to this thesis are the current modelling assumptions made concerning the effects of soil spatial variability, including formations producing distinct zones of preferential flow.
The thesis contains a review of current physically based modelling strategies and a field based assessment of soil spatial variability.
In order to investigate the effects of soil nonuniformity a fully three dimensional model of variability saturated flow in porous media is developed. The model is based on a Galerkin finite element approximation to Richards equation. Accessibility to a vector processor permits numerical solutions on grids containing several thousand node points.
The model is applied to a single hillslope segment under various degrees of soil spatial variability. Such variability is introduced by generating random fields of saturated hydraulic conductivity using the turning bands method. Similar experiments are performed under conditions of preferred soil moisture movement. The results show that the influence of soil variability on subsurface flow may be less significant than suggested in the literature, due to the integrating effects of three dimensional flow. Under conditions of widespread infiltration excess runoff, the results indicate a greater significance of soil nonuniformity. The recognition of zones of preferential flow is also shown to be an important factor in accurate rainfall-runoff modelling.
Using the results of various fields of soil variability, experiments are carried out to assess the validity of the commonly used concept of `effective parameters'. The results of these experiments suggest that such a concept may be valid in modelling subsurface flow. However, the effective parameter is observed to be event dependent when the dominating mechanism is infiltration excess runoff.
Date of AwardOct 1986
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn Elgy (Supervisor)


  • finite element
  • computer modelling
  • rainfall-runoff
  • soil variability
  • soil moisture

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