Laboratory and numerical simulations of infiltration process and solute transport in karst vadose zone

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Groundwater in karst systems is a vital resource, which is often highly vulnerable to contaminants that infiltrate through the vadose zone. Understanding the processes of water and contaminant infiltration in the vadose zone is extremely important for protecting and managing karst water resources. A laboratory-scale physical model based on a typical conceptual model of the karst vadose zone was constructed to characterize the influence of the rainfall intensity and internal structure on the infiltration process and solute transport in the karst vadose zone under controlled conditions. Five factors, including the rainfall intensity, the surface slope, the degree of karstification, the thickness of the transfer zone, and the existence of epikarst, were considered in laboratory experiments. A corresponding lumped-parameter model was subsequently developed to further analyze and investigate the water and solute infiltration processes in the laboratory scale physical model. Recession- and breakthrough curves generated from the lab experiments and the water and solute loss from each reservoir generated from the simulation results were analyzed. The downward trend of breakthrough curves' peak value and the variation of solute loss's proportion in three rainfall events demonstrate that both the increase in thickness and karstification degree will intensify the buffer effect of the karst vadose zone, and this buffer effect is mainly affected by the slow flow system which can be inferred from the increasing percentage of cumulative discharge of slow reservoir (qS). With increasing karstification degree, the recession coefficient (α) exhibits opposite trends depending on the existence of epikarst or not, indicating the karstification degree has a more significant effect on hydraulic conductivity (K) when an epikarst is present while affecting effective porosity (φ) more noticeably in the absence of epikarst. The rainfall intensity affects the results of both experimental and numerical simulation most significantly. The percentage of discharge and solutes flowing from the slow reservoir (qS and msoil_S) have negative correlations with rainfall intensity, suggesting a greater influence on fast flow with increasing rainfall intensity.


Original languageEnglish
Article number131242
JournalJournal of hydrology
Early online date26 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024

External IDs

ORCID /0000-0002-4259-0139/work/159172144
Scopus 85192278733
Mendeley 0fdad83c-2439-3bff-bd46-2edefe1623c8



  • Solute Transport, Karst Vadose Zones, Rainfall Infiltration, Laboratory Experiments, Numerical Simulation