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Front. Environ. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2019.00170

Application of a cellular automaton method to model the structure formation in soils under saturated conditions: A mechanistic approach

  • 1University of Erlangen Nuremberg, Germany
  • 2Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany

Soil functions are closely related to the structure of soil microaggregates. Yet, the mechanisms controlling the establishment of soil structure are diverse and partly unknown. Hence, the understanding of soil processes and functions requires the connection of the concepts on the formation and consolidation of soil structural elements across scales that are hard to observe experimentally. At the bottom level, the dynamics of microaggregate development and restructuring build the basis for transport phenomena at the continuum scale. By modeling the interactions of specific minerals and/or organic matter, we aim to identify the mechanisms that control the evolution of structure and establishment of stationary aggregate properties. We present a mechanistic framework based on a cellular automaton model to simulate the interplay between the prototypic building units of soil microaggregates quartz, goethite, and illite subject to attractive and repulsive electrostatic interaction forces. The resulting structures are quantified by morphological measures. We investigated shielding effects due to charge neutralisation and the aggregate growth rate in response to the net system charge. We found that the fraction as well as the size of the interacting oppositely charged constituents control the size, shape, and amount of occurring aggregates. Furthermore, the concentration in terms of the liquid solid ratio has been shown to increase the aggregation rate. We further adopt the model for an assessment of the temporal evolution of aggregate formation due to successive formation of particle dimers at early stages in comparison to higher order aggregates at later stages. With that we show the effect of composition, charge, size ratio, time and concentration on microaggregate formation by the application of a mechanistic model which also provides predictions for soil aggregation behaviour in case an observation is inhibited by experimental limitations.

Keywords: Individual based modeling, microaggregate formation, mineral surface charge, morphological characteristics, soil structure simulation, self-organisation, cellular automaton

Received: 26 Jul 2019; Accepted: 09 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Rupp, Guhra, Meier, Prechtel, Ritschel, Ray and Totsche. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Nadja Ray, University of Erlangen Nuremberg, Erlangen, 91054, Bavaria, Germany,