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P. CO S E N Z A , R. GU E

R I N & A. TA B B A G H

UMR 7619 Sisyphe, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie and CNRS, case 105, 4 place Jussieu, 75252 Paris Cedex 05, France

Summary

There is no simple and general relationship between the thermal conductivity of a soil, `, and its

volumetric water content, 0, because the porosity, n, and the thermal conductivity of the solid fraction,

`

s

, play a major part. Experimental data including measurements of all the variables are scarce. Using a

numerical modelling approach, we have shown that the microscopic arrangement of water influences the

relation between ` and 0. Simulated values for n ranging from 0.4 to 0.6, `

s

ranging from 2 to 5 Wm

1

K

1

and 0 from 0.1 to 0.4 can be fitted by a simple linear formula that takes into account n, `

s

and 0. The

results given by this formula and by the quadratic parallel (QP) model widely used in physical property

studies are in satisfactory agreement with published data both for saturated rocks and for unsaturated

soils. Consequently, the linear formula and the QP model can be used as practical and efficient tools to

investigate the effects of water content and porosity on the thermal conductivity of the soil and hence to

optimize the design of thermal in situ techniques for monitoring water content.

Introduction

The determination and the monitoring of water content in

soils and unsaturated superficial layers are among the funda-

mental requirements in both agronomy and water manage-

ment. One needs to know, on the one hand, the water reserve

and, on the other, the rate of water flow through the unsat-

urated layers. Many methods and techniques have been tested

to determine the water content of a given soil volume, in

particular those measuring electrical properties, conductivity

or permittivity that are quick and cheap. Thermal properties

also merit attention: they depend significantly on water con-

tent, and measuring temperature is easy and much used in soil

studies. Two independent thermal properties are involved in

the dominant transfer process, namely conduction. The first,

the volumetric heat capacity, C

v

, has been recognized as lin-

early linked to the volumetric water content, 0 (de Vries, 1963),

and is now in common use both in the laboratory and in the

field to determine 0 with so-called heat-pulse probes

(Campbell et al., 1991). For the second, the thermal conduct-

ivity `, it has been recognized that the relationship, though

monotonically increasing, can be more complicated. Despite

continuous progress in the non-stationary step-pulse technique

with needle probes (de Vries, 1952; Blackwell, 1954; Tabbagh &

Jolivet, 1974; Tabbagh, 1985b; Larson, 1988), usable experi-

mental data on the relation between ` and 0 are scarce

(Ochsner et al., 2001), perhaps because the mineralogy of the

solid fraction and the air content have more pronounced

influence than 0 (Smith & Byers, 1938; Smith, 1939; Tabbagh,

1976). This is in contrast to the case of dielectric permittivity

(Topp et al., 1980). An increase in the conductivity with

increasing water content can be the consequence of the

decrease of the air content. An experimental study of the

conductivity against water content would have thus to take

into account air content and solid mineralogy, which would

lead to much experimentation with at least three variables.

This explains why recent studies with active thermal tech-

niques use C

v

rather than `. However, if one attempts to

deduce 0 from natural variation in temperature in a soil then

both properties have to be considered, and one needs a simple

and reliable expression of the relationship between ` and 0 or

at least an unequivocal expression of 0`/00 to allow water

content to be monitored.

To reach this objective, we chose to use numerical simula-

tions based on a physical analogy: if heat moves purely by

conduction then our problem is mathematically the same as

that in static electricity for electrical conductivity or dielectric

permittivity, so the same modelling techniques can be applied.

Consequently, we can ignore heat transfer by vapour flow

(Hiraiwa & Kasubuchi, 2000) or water flow, i.e. by convection.

As in the electrical analogue, we chose to apply the method

of moments (MoM) (Tabbagh et al., 2000, 2002) without

physical assumptions (except the unavoidable assumptions

bearing on the discretization of the geometries of solid, water

Correspondence: P. Cosenza. E-mail: cosenza@ccr.jussieu.fr

Received 10 September 2002; revised version accepted 30 January 2003

European Journal of Soil Science, September 2003, 54, 581587

# 2003 Blackwell Publishing Ltd 581

or air). Following this approach, we have considered a hetero-

geneous volume of soil where different cells corresponding to

the different phases that can be in any type of geometrical

arrangement. From these numerical calculations we propose

simple approximate formulae, which will be compared to the

few existing experimental results. First, we review the empirical

formulae commonly used and the principle of the MoM with

its links with previous attempts to take into account the shapes

and interactions of the different constituent elementary

volumes (de Vries, 1963).

Simple expressions or processes used as empirical

formulae

The behaviour of multiphase media can be complex, and the

first approach to determine any bulk physical property is

experiment. Given a series of experimental data, one wants

to express the results in a manner that is easy to use and links

the bulk property with that of each constituent and, thus, one

attempts to fit simple mathematical expressions to the results.

The choice of the expressions is wide open, but several are in

common use for properties of soils and rocks.

The first is the simple mixing law, which would be written as

`

X

N

i1

`

i

x

i

. 1

where `

i

is the conductivity, N is the total number of compon-

ents in the mixture, and x

i

is the volumetric content of the ith

component. This formula is exact for the density and the

volumetric heat capacity of porous media. By analogy with

an electrical lattice it is often called parallel. Following the

electrical analogy a series formula could be proposed:

`

X

N

i1

`

1

i

x

i

!

1

. 2

However, neither of themhave been recognized as convenient for

thermal conductivity. A third expression is the geometrical law:

`

Y

N

i1

`

xi

i

. 3

Woodside & Messmer (1961) proposed this expression for

thermal conductivity of two-phase saturated media. A fourth

expression is

`

X

N

i1

x

i

`

i

p

!

2

. 4

Note first that for dielectric permittivity, which determines the

velocity in electromagnetic wave propagation, this expression

corresponds to the summation of slowness and is thus equiva-

lent to the expression proposed by Wyllie et al. (1956) for

elastic P waves, and second that for electrical conductivity it

would correspond to Fn

2

, i.e. Archies law (F being the

formation factor) if the solid and air fraction conductivities are

null. As it successfully fitted the variation of both relative

dielectric permittivity and electrical conductivity of the soil

with water content, we could expect it to be equally relevant

for the mathematically analogous thermal conductivity,

even if we cannot give an underlying physical meaning. This

expression, i.e. Equation (4), has received several names:

quadratic parallel (QP), time-propagation (TP) and

complex refractive index (CRIM).

Combinations of the preceding expressions and simple poly-

nomials of order two or three could also be proposed.

Besides simple mathematical expressions, simple iterative

processes easy to implement on computers can model the

physical properties of porous media. The differential effective

medium (DEM) scheme is such a process (Sheng, 1991). One

begins by considering one phase only; at each step a small

fraction of other constituent(s) is added, it replaces an equiva-

lent volume of the existing material and is diluted in it to

constitute a new material to which the next step is applied.

The process is stopped when the expected volumetric propor-

tions are reached.

Method of moments in heat conduction

The method of moments (MoM) was proposed (Harrington,

1968) to solve electrical or electromagnetic problems (Raiche,

1974; Tabbagh, 1985a). It establishes the equivalence between

(a) the presence inside a given volume of an inclusion with

differing properties and (b) the presence of secondary dipolar

sources which are proportional to the total field and to the

local conductivity contrast.

Consider an inhomogeneity of electrical conductivity o

1

in a

uniform space of conductivity o

0

. The total electrical field E

obeys the following integral equation with the appropriate

Greens function G(r,r

0

) (e.g. Raiche, 1974; Tabbagh, 1985a):

Er E

p

r o

1

o

0

V

0

Gr.r

0

Er

0

dt

0

. 5

where V

0

is the volume of the inhomogeneity, E

p

is the

primary field, which would exist in absence of inhomogeneity,

r denotes the current field point and r

0

denotes the position

of the elementary volume dt

0

.

The mathematical analogy leads us to consider an equivalent

thermal field, which is the opposite of the temperature gradient

(rT). If we consider M inhomogeneities of constant thermal

conductivity `

i

in a uniform space of thermal conductivity `

0

,

then the equivalent thermal field satisfies the following integral

equation:

rT rT

p

X

M

i1

`

i

`

0

Vi

0

Gr.r

0

rTr

0

dt

0

.

6

582 P. Cosenza et al.

# 2003 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, European Journal of Soil Science, 54, 581587

where the V

i

0

are the volumes of the inhomogeneities asso-

ciated with the constant conductivity `

i

. In the MoM, one

converts the integral Equation (6) into a set of algebraic equa-

tions (see for instance Harrington, 1968). We divide the

volume into N cubic cells and assume that the equivalent

thermal field is constant in each cell. Then, the integral in

Equation (6) can be approximated by a finite summation:

rT

m

rT

m

p

X

M

i1

`

i

`

0

X

N

n1

rT

n

V

0

n

i

Gr.r

0

dt

0

. 7

where the vectors (rT)

m

and (rT)

m

p

are, respectively, the

unknown equivalent thermal field at the centre of cell m (the

centre of which is at r) and the primary equivalent thermal

field at the centre of cell m. Rearranging Equation (7), we

obtain in more concise notation:

rT

m

p

A

mn

rT

n

. 8

where

A

mn

c

mn

X

M

i1

`

i

`

0

X

N

i1

in

and

in

V

0

n

i

Gr.r

0

dt

0

.

The integral G

in

is numerically evaluated and c

mn

is the unity

tensor (c

mn

1 if mn, c

mn

0 if m6n).

Therefore, the vector (rT) is the solution of Equation (8),

each element of the matrix A

mn

representing the coupling of

one component of the temperature gradient in one cell to one

component of the temperature gradient in another (or the

same) cell. For N cells, the system has 3N linear equations

with 3N unknowns, which are the three spatial components of

the vector (rT) in the centre of each elementary cell.

This method corresponds to a general approach from which the

different assumptions can be clearly defined. By adopting

(rT) (rT)

p

, i.e. the Born approximation, one gets a simple

summation of the effect of the different cells which corresponds in

fact to the simple mixing law, Equation (1). By neglecting the

coupling between cells and considering only the effect of each cell

on itself, Maxwell-Garnett (1904) proposed an approach to the

calculation of optical properties of complex media, which has con-

stituted the basis of inclusion-based models for electrical properties

and of the later de Vries (1963) work on soil thermal conductivity.

To represent a three-phase medium one considers the first

phase as the reference medium, here the solid fraction, in

which heterogeneities corresponding to the two other phases

are located, here water and air fractions. The heterogeneities

can represent the major part of the volume. Any type of

arrangement of the different cells can be chosen: for example,

to represent elongated volumes one can consider either an

in-line series of cubic cells or parallelepiped ones. One can

also consider big cells for one phase and small cells for another

phase, and fracture-like cells as well. In a soil volume the pore

number is very large, and this would lead to a huge matrix, but

it was established in previous studies of dielectric permittivity

(Tabbagh et al., 2000) and electrical conductivity (Tabbagh

et al., 2002) that by considering successive trials of randomly

located cells the results are stable even for a number of cells as

small as 300. In the calculations we thus consider the median

of 27 different trials of 1000 cell positions.

Saturated media

As the thermal conductivity of air can be only one hundredth that

of solid grains, its presence in a medium corresponds to large

contrasts between the different elementary components, which

makes difficult the assessment of assumptions supporting simple

formulae. It is thus advisable to begin by studying saturated media

for which numerous references exist in the literature. In the earth

sciences, indeed, both oil-bearing sedimentary rocks (Zierfuss &

van der Vliet, 1956) and marine sediments (Von Herzen &

Maxwell, 1959; Ratcliffe, 1960) have been studied to determine

geothermal heat flowinthe ocean. Inthe first context, Woodside &

Messmer (1961) have proposed the geometrical law model:

` `

1n

s

`

n

w

. 9

where n is the porosity, `

s

the conductivity of the solid grains

and `

w

that of water (0.60 Wm

1

K

1

). This model fits well

with marine sediments (Lovell, 1984, 1985).

In Figure 1 we present the curves for thermal conductivity

against water content for four different models with a 3 Wm

1

K

1

solid conductivity:

(a) the MoM numerical calculation with a random arrange-

ment of isotropic (cubic) water cells inside the solid;

(b) a DEM scheme;

(c) the geometrical law model, and

(d) the QP model.

The agreement is perfect between (a), (b) and (d). The decrease in

conductivitywiththe increase of water content is more pronounced

in (c) than for the three others, but this effect is clearly apparent

onlybecause inthe present calculationthe conductivityvalue of the

solid fraction is fixed. When experimental data are considered a

little change can easily be introduced in the value of `

s

to enhance

the fit. If one considers a multiphase solid fraction the results

remain similar to those of Figure 1.

Unsaturated media

For the thermal conductivity in the air one adopts

`

a

0.024 Wm

1

K

1

and for water `

w

0.60 Wm

1

K

1

and in both media one considers only conductive transfers.

Thermal conductivity and water content of soils 583

#

2003 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, European Journal of Soil Science, 54, 581587

The study of the relation between dielectric permittivity and

water content of unsaturated soils has established that the

microscopic scale arrangement of the elementary water

volumes has an important influence (Tabbagh et al., 2000).

Thus Figure 2 compares the case of a random distribution of

water and air isotropic (cubic) volumes and the case of elong-

ated randomly orientated water and air volumes. Here also a

difference exists between the two arrangements: for n 0.6 and

`

s

3 Wm

1

K

1

, one has a variation from 0.83 Wm

1

K

1

for 0 0 to 1.17 Wm

1

K

1

for 0 0.4 in the first arrange-

ment and from 0.74 to 1.12 Wm

1

K

1

in the second; the

slopes of the curves are not different, but the second curve is

systematically lower. Even if this difference is more limited

than for permittivity, we adopt in the following calculations

elongated volumes for water and air since it is for this type of

arrangement that a good agreement exists with experiment for

dielectric permittivity.

When varying n, `

s

and 0, one observes that the depend-

ences on water content are linear (Figures 3 and 4 and also

Figure 2). The slopes and the origins, however, depend on

both n and `

s

. As expected from the already published experi-

mental data, there is, thus, no possibility to have a unique

curve enabling determination of water content from the ther-

mal conductivity of a soil. The agreement with the QP formula

Figure 1 Comparison between the different models of the `(0)

relationship for a two-phase saturated medium with 3 Wm

1

K

1

solid thermal conductivity and 0.6 Wm

1

K

1

water thermal

conductivity.

Figure 2 `f(0), results of numerical simulation, comparison between

cubic and elongated microscopic elementary volumes of air and water

(`

s

3 Wm

1

K

1

and n 0.6).

Figure 3 `f(0), results of numerical simulation using elongated

elementary volumes for water, influence of the porosity n

(`

s

3 Wm

1

K

1

).

584 P. Cosenza et al.

# 2003 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, European Journal of Soil Science, 54, 581587

is good for the largest values of the water content, better than

1% for 0 0.4, but worse for smaller 0. If 0 0.15, commonly

the case in temperate climates, one can consider this formula

always as efficient. In those cases the corresponding value of

the derivative can be adopted when monitoring the water

content:

0`

0 0

1.24

`

p

. 10

with

`

`

s

p

1 n

`

w

p

0

`

a

p

n 0

g

2

. 11

The relation in Equation (10) can be used to study the sensi-

tivity of thermal conductivity to changes in water content. To

provide an easy to use result of the numerical calculations, we

propose a polynomial formula fitting to the whole set of

simulated data for n ranging from 0.4 to 0.6, `

s

ranging from

2 to 5 Wm

1

K

1

and 0 from 0.1 to 0.4:

` 0.8908 1.0959n`

s

1.2236 0.3485n0. 12

This formula is called hereafter the numerical simulation (NS)

formula. The agreement between the whole set of numerically

simulated data and this formula is better than 1%, while the

standard deviation remains at 7% for the QP formula as a

result of the discrepancy for small water contents.

Comparison with published experimental data

The first published data acquired with a transient method

(Van Duin & de Vries, 1954) exhibit a linear variation of `

with 0. The slope of the curve linking ` with 0 depends on

porosity, which is qualitatively in complete agreement with the

present simulation results. However, as noted above, experi-

mental series comprising thermal conductivity of solid and

porosity together with a variation of the water content are

few. Moreover, the first studies used a stationary method

where the too high temperature gradients resulted in thermo-

migration, i.e. thermally driven transport of water (Smith &

Byers, 1938; Smith, 1939), which renders the data unusable for

a comparison.

In order to fix the parameters of his model, de Vries (1963)

used thermal conductivity data for Fairbanks sand and Healy

clay (Kersten, 1949), and it is interesting to compare these data

with the models. Unfortunately no data were given for the

thermal conductivities of the solid, and the only thing that

can be done is to calculate the values of this parameter that

give the best fit with the above formulae and to assess the

likelihood of these values. By considering data for 0 0.1, one

obtains for Fairbanks sand `

s

3.72 Wm

1

K

1

for the NS

formula and 3.84 Wm

1

K

1

for the QP formula; both values

are likely for a sand with quartz content around 60%. For the

Healy clay, one obtains 2.04 Wm

1

K

1

for the NS formula

and 2.08 Wm

1

K

1

for the QP formula. A comparison

between experimental data and the calculated values from

the QP formula and the NS formula is given in Figure 5. A

good agreement is obtained.

Two soils among the series considered in the study by

Ghuman & Lal (1985) present an extended range of water

content (from 0.06 to 0.24), a loam (numbered 3), and a

sandy clay loam (numbered 17). For both one can determine

the porosity from the bulk density, the dry density and the

water content. Comparison with the models leads to small

values of `

s

: 1.45 Wm

1

K

1

with NS and 1.0 Wm

1

K

1

with QP for the loam and 0.67 Wm

1

K

1

with NS and

0.73 Wm

1

K

1

with QP for the sandy clay loam. These values

are small and provide theoretical curves with a good trend but

a poorer agreement with experimental data than for other soils

(Figure 6). This suggests that NS and QP formulae would not

be valid for soils with unusually small values of `

s

, typically

less than 1.0. Note that the value of 1.0 is much smaller than

the minimum of the `

s

range used in our numerical simulations

to establish the NS model.

Hopmans & Dane (1986) published data on `(0) for

Norfolk sandy loam. The porosity equals 0.412 (solid mineral

volumetric content 0.584 and organic matter volumetric con-

tent 0.004). At 22

C the value of `

s

that provides the best fits

with the NS formula is 2.74 Wm

1

K

1

and 2.87 Wm

1

K

1

Figure 4 `f(0), results of numerical simulation using elongated

elementary volumes for water, influence of the solid fraction thermal

conductivity (n 0.5).

Thermal conductivity and water content of soils 585

#

2003 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, European Journal of Soil Science, 54, 581587

with QP. The theoretical curves associated with these values of

`

s

are in a satisfactory agreement with the experimental data

(Figure 6).

In their paper presenting the tests of a newly developed

TDR and Dual-Probe Heat Pulse (DPHP) probe, Ren et al.

(1999) presented laboratory results for a silica sand. From

their heat capacity curve one can, by adopting a value of

1.9 MJ m

3

K

1

for the solid fraction, determine the porosity

n 0.385. By extracting the numerical values from their Figure

8 showing the `(0) curve, one can compare them with the

models. The best fitting value of `

s

is 4.65 Wm

1

K

1

for

NS and 4.94 Wm

1

K

1

for QP, likely values for a silica

sand. A good agreement is obtained between the experimental

data and the theoretical curves calculated with the best fitting

values of `

s

(Figure 6).

Singh & Devid (2000) considered laboratory samples of clay,

sand and mixtures. Their results (Table 6 in the reference) on

single solid phase silty sand exhibit sufficiently large values of 0

and ` to be within the domain of application of the NS formula.

By calculating the porosity from dry density (and adopting a

2.65g cm

3

solid fraction density) and 0 from the moisture

(weight) and the dry density, one obtains `

s

2.13 Wm

1

K

1

for NS and 2.26 Wm

1

K

1

for QP. Figure 6 shows the thermal

conductivity calculated with the NS and QP formulae for a clay

and a silty clay. A satisfactory agreement with the correspond-

ing experimental data is observed.

Abu-Hamdeh et al. (2001) compared heating and cooling

hot wire methods for the determination of `, with 0 0.06.

They considered three different soils, clay loam, loam and

sandy loam. By calculating n and 0, one obtains, using, respect-

ively, the NS and the QP formulae, `

s

1.20 and 1.38 Wm

1

K

1

for the clay loam, 1.37 and 1.55 Wm

1

K

1

for the loam,

and 1.89 and 2.13 Wm

1

K

1

for the sandy loam. The increase

of `

s

with the sand content is a consistent result.

All these comparisons are for laboratory samples, the struc-

ture of which has been destroyed, and not for in situ measure-

ments. Also, experimentally determined thermal conductivities

of the solid fraction are not given. Nonetheless, both the NS

formula and the QP formula give consistent and likely results

which can be compared with the experimental data with a

satisfactory agreement (Figures 5 and 6).

Conclusions

As with other thermal properties, conductivity ` depends on

water content, but the porosity and the thermal conductivity

of the solid fraction are also strong determinants. Hence deter-

mination of water content from ` cannot be as simple as for

the dielectric permittivity . To compensate for the lack of

complete experimental data sets over a sufficiently wide

range of soil texture, we use numerical modelling by the

method of moments to simulate the influence of the different

Figure 6 Measured and calculated conductivities as a function of

volumetric water content.

Figure 5 Comparison between experimental data (de Vries, 1963) and

theoretical values calculated using the NS and QP formulae.

586 P. Cosenza et al.

# 2003 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, European Journal of Soil Science, 54, 581587

parameters. We propose a simple polynomial expression for

use as an easy to handle tool. We observe also that the

classical quadratic parallel (QP) expression gives a fair agree-

ment with the numerical results, both fitting well with the few

available sets of experimental data. If one considers the ana-

logy with , for which this expression fits well with experi-

ments, then this agreement is not surprising. In the case of ,

one component, the water, has a permittivity very different

from that of the others. In the case of `, one component, the

air, has a conductivity very different from that of the other

constituents.

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