Effect of stone coverage on soil erosion

Soil surface coverage has a significant impact on water infiltration, runoff and soil erosion yields. In particular, surface stones protect the soils from raindrop detachment, they retard the overland flow therefore decreasing its sediment transport capacity, and they prevent surface sealing. Several physical and environmental factors control to what extent stones on the soil surface modify the erosion rates and the related hydrological response. Among the most important factors are the moisture content of the topsoil, stone size, emplacement, coverage density and soil texture. Owing to the different inter-related processes, there is ambiguity concerning the quantitative effect of stones, and process-based understanding is limited. Experiments were performed (i) to quantify how stone features affect sediment yields, (ii) to understand the local effect of isolated surface stones, that is, the changes of the soil particle size distribution in the vicinity of a stone and (iii) to determine how stones attenuate the development of surface sealing and in turn how this affects the local infiltration rate. A series of experiments using the EPFL 6-m × 2-m erosion flume were conducted at different rainfall intensities (28 and 74 mm h-1) and stone coverage (20 and 40%). The total sediment concentration, the concentration of the individual size classes and the flow discharge were measured. In order to analyze the measurements, the Hairsine and Rose (HR) erosion model was adapted to account for the shielding effect of the stone cover. This was done by suitably adjusting the parameters based on the area not covered by stones. It was found that the modified HR model predictions agreed well with the measured sediment concentrations especially for the long time behavior. Changes in the bulk density of the topsoil due to raindrop-induced compaction with and without stone protection revealed that the stones protect the upper soil surface against the structural seals resulting in negligible changes in the bulk density during the erosion event. Since the main process contributing to surface sealing development is the compaction due to the raindrop kinetic energy and associated physico-chemical changes, the protection provided by the stone cover is consistent with the area-averaging approach used in applying the HR model.


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