Laboratory flume experiments to study the influence of initial conditions and rock fragment cover on soil erosion dynamics
The influence of the initial soil surface characteristics and rock fragment coverage on precipitation-driven soil erosion was investigated through laboratory experiments on a 6-m × 1-m soil parcel with mild slope. A sequence of four experiments, consisting of 2-h precipitation followed by 22 h of air drying, was conducted. The precipitation rates used were 28, 74, 74 and 28 mm h-1. In each experiment, one flume was bare while the other had 40% rock fragment coverage. The soil was hand cultivated and smoothed before the first event (named H7-E1). Experiments were designed such that for H7-E1 steady state concentrations were obtained at the end of the erosive event only for the finer sediments. Results suggest that steady state concentrations were mainly controlled by the rainfall intensity. The sediment yields during the transient phase at the beginning of each erosive event were instead sensitive to the initial soil condition, in particular to whether steady-state was reached in the previous event. If steady-state concentrations were reached for a particular size class, that class’s effluent concentration peaked rapidly in the next rainfall event, then declined gradually to its steady-state value. When the stationary behaviour was not reached, the subsequent event produced effluent concentrations that increased gradually to steady state. Steady state concentrations were achieved faster in the presence of stones on the soil surface compared with bare soil condition. The suitability of the Hairsine and Rose model to analyse the sediment concentration of the individual size classes was evaluated. The model could not predict in detail the erosion yields when topsoil was heavily modified by rainfall (H7-E1 and H7-E2), while a satisfactory comparison was observed for the last two experiments (H7-E3 and H7-E4), in which the soil was less modified by raindrop impact. Model application indicates that the contribution of the original soil to the eroded sediment decreased gradually during the sequence of experiments, while that of the deposited layer increased.