Soil Science Society of America (SSSA)

How vulnerable is our groundwater?


When water travels through soil and bedrock to the water table, it carries minerals, nutrients or chemicals from the surface with it. Environmental research is increasingly concerned with preferential flow, or the movement of water through pores and cracks at a faster rate and bypassing most of the surrounding material, either soil or fractured rock.

A special section on preferential flow features in the May 2010 Vadose Zone Journal, a publication of the Soil Science Society of America. This journal focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to the piece of earth between soil and the water table.
The number of scientific articles on preferential flow has increased since the late 1990’s, symptomatic of environmental concerns of contaminant leaching and unintended pollution of subsurface and surface waters in agricultural landscapes. In 1999 there were 100 articles on the topic, and in 2009 that number had increased to 160.
Articles in this issue represent research relevant to agricultural contamination of groundwater, the effect of land use change on water resources, rainstorm runoff and erosion, transport of heavy metals and other toxins, and irrigation.
The special section contains 18 new articles on preferential flow, ranging from testing, developing and calibrating models, measuring techniques, and observations and experiments of unique flow patterns. Mirroring the current state of research in the field, these articles represent the latest in concepts and topics related to preferential flow.
While the featured articles represent incredible progress in the development of preferential flow modeling and concepts, the research also highlights the remaining problems and challenges, such as the need for noninvasive experimental and imaging techniques, and incorporating smaller scale observations into larger scale formation.
Two discernable trends are noticeable from the research, namely images that produce greater resolution of water distribution and the extension of principles onto preferential flow models. Future advancements in modeling and concepts will occur with the advancement of experimental methods.
The abstracts for the articles in this special section are available at

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

Vadose Zone Journal, is a unique publication outlet for interdisciplinary research and assessment of the biosphere, with a focus on the vadose zone, the mostly unsaturated zone between the soil surface and the permanent groundwater table. VZJ is a peer-reviewed, international, online journal publishing reviews, original research, and special sections across a wide range of disciplines that involve the vadose zone, including those that address broad scientific and societal issues. VZJ is published by Soil Science Society of America, with Geological Society of America as a cooperator.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. For more information, visit

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