Considerable soil water repellency has been observed at a wide range of locations worldwide. The soil exhibiting water repellency is found within the upper part of the soil profile. The reduced rate of water infiltration into these soils leads to severe runoff erosion, and reduction of plant growth. Soil water repellency is promoted by drying of soil, and can be induced by fire or intense heating of soil containing hydrophobic organic matter. Recent studies outside soil science have shown how enhancement of the natural water repellency of materials, both porous and granular, by surface texture (i.e. surface roughness, pattern and morphology) into super-hydrophobicity is possible. The similarities between these super-hydrophobic materials and observed properties of water-repellent soil are discussed from a non-soil scientist, materials-based perspective. A simple model is developed for a hydrophobic granular surface and it is shown that this can provide a mechanism for enhancement of soil water repellency through the relative size and spacing of grains and pores. The model provides a possible explanation for why soil water repellency should be more prevalent under dry conditions than wet. Consequences for water runoff, raindrop splash and soil erosion are discussed.
- water repellence