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Evaluating the effect of pore dilation on the quality of laboratory measurements of peat hydraulic conductivity

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date30/08/2010
JournalHydrological Processes
Number of pages0
Original languageEnglish


Pore dilation, the compaction of humic acids on peat fibres due to the process of flocculation, causes the hydraulic conductivity of peat to increase with increasing pore water electrical conductivity. This is a reversible process and a reduction in the pore water conductivity produces a decrease in the hydraulic conductivity due to the constriction of pores. We verify how this dilation and constriction of pores, resulting from the application of artificial pore water (primarily deionized water), affects laboratory measurements of the hydraulic conductivity of peat. Repeat measurements of the hydraulic conductivity were performed on samples of Sphagnum peat. It is shown that the application of deionized water during constant head permeameter tests causes a significant decrease in the hydraulic conductivity. Between tests, the hydraulic conductivity of the peat continues to decline without an associate decrease in the pore water electrical conductivity because of a lagged pore constriction effect. We suggest that the use of artificially high or low pore water electrical conductivities, during laboratory hydraulic conductivity measurements, is likely to lead to significant errors. Experimental protocols must, therefore, be revised to take better account of the pore water chemistry. The ionic concentrations of the natural pore fluid should be replicated during hydraulic conductivity tests, either by using pore fluid extracted from the study site or by artificially replicating the major ionic composition of the natural pore fluid. In addition, prior to the hydraulic conductivity measurements, peat samples should be flushed with this solution until the hydraulic conductivity stabilizes and the samples subsequently allowed to equilibrate