EGU23-4425, updated on 09 Jan 2024
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Benchmarking of Functional-Structural Root Architecture Models

Andrea Schnepf1,14, Christopher K. Black2, Valentin Couvreur3, Benjamin M. Delory4, Claude Doussan5, Adrien Heymans3, Mathieu Javaux1,6, Deepanshu Khare1,14, Axelle Koch6, Timo Koch7,8,9, Christian W. Kuppe10, Magdalena Landl1,14, Daniel Leitner1,14, Guillaume Lobet1,14, Félicien Meunier11,12, Johannes Postma10, Ernst Schäfer2,13, Tobias Selzner1,14, Jan Vanderborght1,14, and Harry Vereecken1,14
Andrea Schnepf et al.
  • 1Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, IBG-3 Agrosphäre, Jülich, Germany (
  • 2Department of Plant Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA, USA
  • 3Earth and Life Institute, Agronomy, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 4Institute of Ecology, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany
  • 5UMR 1114 EMMAH, INRA/UAPV, Avignon, France
  • 6Earth and Life Institute, Environmental Sciences, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 7Department of Hydromechanics and Modelling of Hydrosystems, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
  • 8Department of Mathematics, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 9SCAN department, Simula Research Laboratory, Oslo, Norway
  • 10Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Institute of Bio- and Geosciences – Plant Sciences (IBG-2), Germany
  • 11CAVElab - Computational and Applied Vegetation Ecology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
  • 12Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University, Boston, USA
  • 13School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham, Mathematical Sciences
  • 14International Soil Modelling Consortium ISMC, Jülich, Germany

Schnepf et al., (2020) defined benchmark scenarios for root growth models, soil water flow models, root water flow models, and for water flow in the coupled soil-root system. All benchmarks and corresponding reference solutions were published in the form of Jupyter Notebooks on the GitHub repository Several groups of functional-structural model developers have joined this benchmarking activity and provided the results of their individual implementations of the different scenarios.

The focus of this contribution is on water uptake from a drying soil by a static root architecture. The numerical solutions of the different participating simulators as compared to the provided reference solution.

The participating simulators are CPlantBox, DuMux, R-SWMS, OpenSimRoot and SRI. They have in common that they simulate water flow in the 3D soil domain, water flow inside the root system that is represented as a mathematical tree graph, and the coupling between the two domains in form of a volumetric sink term that describes the transfer of water between the two domains. The simulators differ in the numerical schemes used for solving the water flow equations in roots and soil domains, as well as in the way the sink term is formulated, in particular in the way the possibly increased rhizosphere resistance to water flow is accounted for. 

The results to the water flow in soil benchmarks show how the different simulators perform against the analytical solution to a problem of infiltration into an initially dry soil, as well as a problem of evaporation from initially moist soil. All of the simulators could accurately predict the infiltration front in different soil types as well as the actual evaporation curves.

The coupled problem of root water uptake by a static root architecture from an initially already dry soil posed a bigger challenge to the different simulators and revealed some diversity between the different solutions. The Benchmark with an initially rather dry soil defined a potential transpiration that immediately induced water stress of the plant. The simulators had to simulate the consequent rhizosphere drying and associated increase in rhizosphere resistance. All of the soil simulators smoothed the gradients in the rhizosphere at the soil grid size such that root water uptake was significantly overestimated unless the rhizosphere resistance was explicitly accounted for in the root water uptake model. As a result, all simulators came close to the reference solution (that itself is a numerical solution, see Schnepf et al. 2020 for details). 

In this study, we showed that all simulators are generally able to solve the benchmark problems but minor differences occur amongst the simulators when simulating different soil types. Benchmarking led to model improvements and helped interpret model results in a more informed way. The availability of “reference solutions“ made modellers aware of the range of validity of their numerical solution and encouraged them to improve either their numerical solution or to introduce new processes Future efforts may aim to extend the benchmarks from water flow to further processes, such as solute transport or rhizodeposition.


Schnepf et al., 2020, Front. Plant Sci. 11

How to cite: Schnepf, A., Black, C. K., Couvreur, V., Delory, B. M., Doussan, C., Heymans, A., Javaux, M., Khare, D., Koch, A., Koch, T., Kuppe, C. W., Landl, M., Leitner, D., Lobet, G., Meunier, F., Postma, J., Schäfer, E., Selzner, T., Vanderborght, J., and Vereecken, H.: Benchmarking of Functional-Structural Root Architecture Models, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 23–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-4425,, 2023.