ASTM D5126 / D5126M - 90(2010)e1

    Standard Guide for Comparison of Field Methods for Determining Hydraulic Conductivity in Vadose Zone

    Active Standard ASTM D5126 / D5126M | Developed by Subcommittee: D18.21

    Book of Standards Volume: 04.08


      Format Pages Price  
    PDF 11 $49.00   ADD TO CART
    Hardcopy (shipping and handling) 11 $49.00   ADD TO CART


    Significance and Use

    Saturated hydraulic conductivity measurements are made for a variety of purposes varying from design of landfills and construction of clay liners to assessment of irrigation systems. Infiltrometers are commonly used where infiltration or percolation rates through a surface or subsurface layer are desired. Evaluation of the rate of water movement through a pond liner is one example of this kind of measurement. Penetration of the liner by a borehole would invalidate the measurement of liner permeability. It has been noted that small-ring infiltrometers are subject to error due to lateral divergence of flow. Therefore, techniques using very large (1 to 2-m diameter) infiltration basins have been recommended for measuring the very slow percolation rates typically required for clay liners. The air-entry permeameter can be used instead of infiltrometer tests to avoid lateral divergence of flow. However, because a cylinder must be driven into the media tested, the actual soil column tested may be disrupted by introduction of the cylinder, especially in structured soils.

    Borehole tests for determining saturated hydraulic conductivity are applicable for evaluating the rate of water movement through subsurface layers. For slowly permeable layers, an accurate method of measuring the rate of water movement into the borehole must be developed. Use of a flexible bag as a reservoir that can be periodically weighed is advisable for these conditions. A number of mathematical solutions for borehole outflow data are available (Stephens et al. (17), Reynolds et al. (18), and Philip (19)).

    Information on unsaturated flow rates is needed to design hazardous waste landfills and impoundments where prevention of flow of contaminants into groundwater is required. Of the test methods available, the primary differences are cost and resultant bias and precision. The instantaneous profile test method appears to provide very reliable data because it uses a large volume of soil (several cubic metres) and is performed on undisturbed soils in the field. However, a single test can cost several thousand dollars. The gypsum crust test method, although more rapid than the instantaneous profile test method, sacrifices precision of results due to the smaller spatial extent of the tested area. Methods for estimating unsaturated hydraulic conductivity from fundamental soil hydraulic functions like the desorption curve may readily deviate from true values by an order of magnitude, but may be of use where relative differences in permeability between materials or across water content ranges is of interest.

    1. Scope

    1.1 This guide covers a review of the test methods for determining hydraulic conductivity in unsaturated soils and sediments. Test methods for determining both field-saturated and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity are described.

    1.2 Measurement of hydraulic conductivity in the field is used for estimating the rate of water movement through clay liners to determine if they are a barrier to water flux, for characterizing water movement below waste disposal sites to predict contaminant movement, and to measure infiltration and drainage in soils and sediment for a variety of applications. Test methods are needed for measuring hydraulic conductivity ranging from 1 × 102 to 1 × 108 cm/s, for both surface and subsurface layers, and for both field-saturated and unsaturated flow.

    1.3 For these field test methods a distinction must be made between saturated (Ks) and field-saturated (Kfs) hydraulic conductivity. True saturated conditions seldom occur in the vadose zone except where impermeable layers result in the presence of perched water tables. During infiltration events or in the event of a leak from a lined pond, a field-saturated condition develops. True saturation does not occur due to entrapped air (1). The entrapped air prevents water from moving in air-filled pores that, in turn, may reduce the hydraulic conductivity measured in the field by as much as a factor of two compared to conditions when trapped air is not present (2). Field test methods should simulate the field-saturated condition.

    1.4 Field test methods commonly used to determine field-saturated hydraulic conductivity include various double-ring infiltrometer test methods, air-entry permeameter test methods, and borehole permeameter tests. Many empirical test methods are used for calculating hydraulic conductivity from data obtained with each test method. A general description of each test method and special characteristics affecting applicability is provided.

    1.5 Field test methods used to determine unsaturated hydraulic conductivity in the field include direct measurement techniques and various estimation methods. Direct measurement techniques for determining unsaturated hydraulic conductivity include the instantaneous profile (IP) test method and the gypsum crust method. Estimation techniques have been developed using borehole permeameter data and using data obtained from desorption curves (a curve relating water content to matric potential).

    1.6 The values stated in either SI units or inch-pound units [presented in brackets] are to be regarded separately as standard. The values stated in each system may not be exact equivalents; therefore, each system shall be used independently of the other. Combining values from the two systems may result in non-conformance with the standard.

    1.6.1 The gravitational system of inch-pound units is used when dealing with inch-pound units. In this system, the pound (lbf) represents a unit of force (weight), while the unit for mass is slugs. The rationalized slug unit is not given, unless dynamic (F = ma) calculations are involved.

    1.7 This standard does not purport to address all of the safety concerns, if any, associated with its use. It is the responsibility of the user of this standard to establish appropriate safety and health practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.

    1.8 This guide offers an organized collection of information or a series of options and does not recommend a specific course of action. This document cannot replace education or experience and should be used in conjunction with professional judgment. Not all aspects of this guide may be applicable in all circumstances. This ASTM standard is not intended to represent or replace the standard of care by which the adequacy of a given professional service must be judged, nor should this document be applied without consideration of a project's many unique aspects. The word Standard in the title of this document means only that the document has been approved through the ASTM consensus process.


    2. Referenced Documents (purchase separately) The documents listed below are referenced within the subject standard but are not provided as part of the standard.

    ASTM Standards

    D653 Terminology Relating to Soil, Rock, and Contained Fluids

    D2434 Test Method for Permeability of Granular Soils (Constant Head)

    D3385 Test Method for Infiltration Rate of Soils in Field Using Double-Ring Infiltrometer

    D4643 Test Method for Determination of Water (Moisture) Content of Soil by Microwave Oven Heating


    ICS Code

    ICS Number Code 07.060 (Geology. Meteorology. Hydrology)

    UNSPSC Code

    UNSPSC Code


    DOI: 10.1520/D5126_D5126M-90R10E01

    ASTM International is a member of CrossRef.

    ASTM D5126 / D5126M

    Citing ASTM Standards
    Back to Top