25 Apr 2022
25 Apr 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Going down the rabbit hole: An exploration of the soil erosion feedback system

Pedro Velloso Gomes Batista1, Daniel Lee Evans2, Bernardo Moreira Cândido3, and Peter Fiener1 Pedro Velloso Gomes Batista et al.
  • 1Water and Soil Resource Research, Institute of Geography, University of Augsburg, 86159, Augsburg, Germany
  • 2School of Water Energy & Environment, Cranfield University, Cranfield, United Kingdom
  • 3Centro de Solos e Recursos Ambientais, Instituto Agronômico de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil

Abstract. Soil erosion rates on arable land frequently exceed the pace at which new soil is formed. This imbalance leads to soil thinning (i.e., truncation), whereby subsoil horizons and their underlying parent material become progressively closer to the land surface. As subsurface horizons often have contrasting properties to the original topsoil, truncation-induced changes to soil properties might affect erosion rates and runoff formation through a soil erosion feedback system. However, the potential interactions between soil erosion and soil truncation are poorly understood due to a lack of empirical data and the neglection of long-term erodibility dynamics in erosion simulation models. Here we present a novel model-based exploration of the soil erosion feedback system over a 500-year period, using measured soil properties from a diversified database of 265 soil profiles in the United Kingdom. We found that modelled erosion rates in 39 % of the soil profiles were sensitive to truncation-induced changes in soil properties and that most of these truncation-sensitive profiles (75 %) displayed a deaccelerating erosion trend over the simulation period. This was largely explained by decreasing silt contents in the soil surface due to selective removal of this more erodible particle size fraction and the presence of clayey or sandy substrata. Moreover, the profiles with deaccelerating erosion trends had an increased residual stone cover, which armoured the land surface and reduced soil detachment. Contrastingly, the soils with siltier subsurface horizons continuously replenished the plough layer with readily erodible material, which accelerated the soil losses over time. Ultimately, our results demonstrate how soil losses can be sensitive to erosion-induced changes in soil properties, which in turn may accelerate or slow down soil thinning. These findings are likely to affect how we calculate soil lifespans and make long-term projections of land degradation.

Pedro Velloso Gomes Batista et al.

Status: open (until 09 Oct 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-181', Enrico Balugani, 16 Jul 2022 reply
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Pedro Batista, 27 Jul 2022 reply
      • RC2: 'Reply on AC1', Enrico Balugani, 27 Jul 2022 reply
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-181', Andres Peñuela Fernandez, 12 Sep 2022 reply
  • RC4: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-181', Joris Eekhout, 15 Sep 2022 reply

Pedro Velloso Gomes Batista et al.

Model code and software

Erosion Feedback System - Soil Thinning MMMF Model Pedro V G Batista, Daniel L Evans, Bernardo M Candido, Peter Fiener

Pedro Velloso Gomes Batista et al.


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Short summary
Most agricultural soils erode faster than new soil is formed, which leads to soil thinning. Here we used a model simulation to investigate how soil erosion and soil thinning can alter topsoil properties and change its susceptibility to erosion. We found that soil profiles are sensitive to erosion-induced changes in the soil system, which can both accelerate and slow down soil thinning. These findings are likely to impact how we estimate soil lifespans and simulate long-term erosion dynamics.