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Concept: Erosion


We describe the physical context of the Dinaledi Chamber within the Rising Star cave, South Africa, which contains the fossils of Homo naledi. Approximately 1550 specimens of hominin remains have been recovered from at least 15 individuals, representing a small portion of the total fossil content. Macro-vertebrate fossils are exclusively H. naledi, and occur within clay-rich sediments derived from in situ weathering, and exogenous clay and silt, which entered the chamber through fractures that prevented passage of coarser-grained material. The chamber was always in the dark zone, and not accessible to non-hominins. Bone taphonomy indicates that hominin individuals reached the chamber complete, with disarticulation occurring during/after deposition. Hominins accumulated over time as older laminated mudstone units and sediment along the cave floor were eroded. Preliminary evidence is consistent with deliberate body disposal in a single location, by a hominin species other than Homo sapiens, at an as-yet unknown date.

Concepts: Human, Sediment, Sedimentary rock, Erosion, Geology, Fossil, Silt, Taphonomy


In order to reduce soil erosion and desertification, the Sloping Land Conversion Program has been conducted in China for more than 15 years, and large areas of farmland have been converted to forest and grassland. However, this large-scale vegetation-restoration project has faced some key problems (e.g. soil drying) that have limited the successful development of the current ecological-recovery policy. Therefore, it is necessary to know about the land use, vegetation, and soil, and their inter-relationships in order to identify the suitability of vegetation restoration. This study was conducted at the watershed level in the ecologically vulnerable region of the Loess Plateau, to evaluate the land suitability using the analytic hierarchy process (AHP). The results showed that (1) the area unsuitable for crops accounted for 73.3% of the watershed, and the main factors restricting cropland development were soil physical properties and soil nutrients; (2) the area suitable for grassland was about 86.7% of the watershed, with the remaining 13.3% being unsuitable; (3) an area of 3.95 km(2), accounting for 66.7% of the watershed, was unsuitable for forest. Overall, the grassland was found to be the most suitable land-use to support the aims of the Sloping Land Conversion Program in the Liudaogou watershed. Under the constraints of soil water shortage and nutrient deficits, crops and forests were considered to be inappropriate land uses in the study area, especially on sloping land. When selecting species for re-vegetation, non-native grass species with high water requirements should be avoided so as to guarantee the sustainable development of grassland and effective ecological functioning. Our study provides local land managers and farmers with valuable information about the inappropriateness of growing trees in the study area along with some information on species selection for planting in the semi-arid area of the Loess Plateau.

Concepts: Nutrient, Soil, Erosion, Analytic Hierarchy Process, Analytical hierarchy, Land use, Geomorphology, Deforestation


Human modification of natural landscapes has influenced surface processes in many settings on Earth. Quantitative data comparing the distribution and behavior of geologic phenomena before and after human arrival are sparse but urgently required to evaluate possible anthropogenic influences on geologic hazards. We conduct field and imagery-based mapping, statistical analysis, and numerical modeling of rockfall boulders triggered by the fatal 2011 Christchurch earthquakes (n = 285) and newly identified prehistoric (Holocene and Pleistocene) boulders (n = 1049). Prehistoric and modern boulders are lithologically equivalent, derived from the same source cliff, and yield consistent power-law frequency-volume distributions. However, a significant population of modern boulders (n = 26) traveled farther downslope (>150 m) than their most-traveled prehistoric counterparts, causing extensive damage to residential dwellings at the foot of the hillslope. Replication of prehistoric boulder distributions using three-dimensional rigid-body numerical models that incorporate lidar-derived digital topography and realistic boulder trajectories and volumes requires the application of a drag coefficient, attributed to moderate to dense slope vegetation, to account for their spatial distribution. Incorporating a spatially variable native forest into the models successfully predicts prehistoric rockfall distributions. Radiocarbon dating provides evidence for 17th to early 20th century deforestation at the study site during Polynesian and European colonization and after emplacement of prehistoric rockfall. Anthropocene deforestation enabled modern rockfalls to exceed the limits of their prehistoric predecessors, highlighting a shift in the geologic expression of rockfalls due to anthropogenic activity. Reforestation of hillslopes by mature native vegetation could help reduce future rockfall hazard.

Concepts: Human, Erosion, Distribution, 20th century, Holocene, Global warming, Geologic time scale, Boulder


Soil plays a key role in the global carbon © cycle. Most current assessments of SOC stocks and the guidelines given by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) focus on the top 30 cm of soil. Our research shows that, when considering only total quantities, most of the SOC stocks are found in this top layer. However, not all forms of SOC are equally valuable as long-term stable stores of carbon: the majority of SOC is available for mineralisation and can potentially be re-emitted to the atmosphere. SOC associated with micro-aggregates and silt plus clay fractions is more stable and therefore represents a long-term carbon store. Our research shows that most of this stable carbon is located at depths below 30 cm (42% of subsoil SOC is located in microaggregates and silt and clay, compared to 16% in the topsoil), specifically in soils that are subject to clay illuviation. This has implications for land management decisions in temperate grassland regions, defining the trade-offs between primary productivity and C emissions in clay-illuviated soils, as a result of drainage. Therefore, climate smart land management should consider the balance between SOC stabilisation in topsoils for productivity versus sequestration in subsoils for climate mitigation.

Concepts: Climate, Soil, Erosion, Atmosphere, Steppe, Silt, Subsoil, Topsoil


Weathering on mountain slopes converts rock to sediment that erodes into channels and thus provides streams with tools for incision into bedrock. Both the size and flux of sediment from slopes can influence channel incision, making sediment production and erosion central to the interplay of climate and tectonics in landscape evolution. Although erosion rates are commonly measured using cosmogenic nuclides, there has been no complementary way to quantify how sediment size varies across slopes where the sediment is produced. Here we show how this limitation can be overcome using a combination of apatite helium ages and cosmogenic nuclides measured in multiple sizes of stream sediment. We applied the approach to a catchment underlain by granodiorite bedrock on the eastern flanks of the High Sierra, in California. Our results show that higher-elevation slopes, which are steeper, colder, and less vegetated, are producing coarser sediment that erodes faster into the channel network. This suggests that both the size and flux of sediment from slopes to channels are governed by altitudinal variations in climate, vegetation, and topography across the catchment. By quantifying spatial variations in the sizes of sediment produced by weathering, this analysis enables new understanding of sediment supply in feedbacks between climate, tectonics, and mountain landscape evolution.

Concepts: Earth, Sediment, Climate change, Erosion, Stream, Vegetation, Road, Geomorphology


The multitemporal behavior of soil loss by surface water erosion in the hydrographic basin of the river Mourão in the center-western region of the Paraná state, Brazil, is analyzed. Forecast was based on the application of the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) with the data integration and estimates within an Geography Information System (GIS) environment. Results had shown high mean annual rain erosivity (10,000, with great concentration in January and December. As a rule, soils have average erodibilities, exception of Dystroferric Red Latisol (low class) and Dystrophic Red Argisol (high class). Although the topographic factor was high (>20), rates lower than 1 were predominant. Main land uses comprise temporal crops and pasture throughout the years. The watershed showed a natural potential for low surface erosion. When related to usage types, yearly soil loss was also low (<50 ton.ha-1.year-1), with more critical scores that reach rates higher than 150 ton.ha-1.year-1. Soil loss over the years did not provide great distinctions in distribution standards, although it becames rather intensified in some sectors, especially in the center-eastern and southwestern sections of the watershed.

Concepts: Water, Geographic information system, Soil, Erosion, Surface runoff, Geomorphology, Weathering, Universal Soil Loss Equation


In the Loess Plateau, soil erosion has not only caused serious ecological and environmental problems but has also impacted downstream areas. Therefore, a model is needed to guide the comprehensive control of soil erosion. In this study, we introduced the WEPP model to simulate soil erosion both at the slope and watershed scales. Our analyses showed that: the simulated values at the slope scale were very close to the measured. However, both the runoff and soil erosion simulated values at the watershed scale were higher than the measured. At the slope scale, under different coverage, the simulated erosion was slightly higher than the measured. When the coverage is 40%, the simulated results of both runoff and erosion are the best. At the watershed scale, the actual annual runoff of the Liudaogou watershed is 83m3; sediment content is 0.097 t/m3, annual erosion sediment 8.057t and erosion intensity 0.288 t ha-1 yr-1. Both the simulated values of soil erosion and runoff are higher than the measured, especially the runoff. But the simulated erosion trend is relatively accurate after the farmland is returned to grassland. We concluded that the WEPP model can be used to establish a reasonable vegetation restoration model and guide the vegetation restoration of the Loess Plateau.

Concepts: Sediment, Soil, Erosion, Silt, Surface runoff, Geomorphology, Loess Plateau, Deforestation


Deciphering erosion rates over geologic time is fundamental for understanding the interplay between climate, tectonic, and erosional processes. Existing techniques integrate erosion over different time scales, and direct comparison of such rates is routinely done in earth science. On the basis of a global compilation, we show that erosion rate estimates in glaciated landscapes may be affected by a systematic averaging bias that produces higher estimated erosion rates toward the present, which do not reflect straightforward changes in erosion rates through time. This trend can result from a heavy-tailed distribution of erosional hiatuses (that is, time periods where no or relatively slow erosion occurs). We argue that such a distribution can result from the intermittency of erosional processes in glaciated landscapes that are tightly coupled to climate variability from decadal to millennial time scales. In contrast, we find no evidence for a time scale bias in spatially averaged erosion rates of landscapes dominated by river incision. We discuss the implications of our findings in the context of the proposed coupling between climate and tectonics, and interpreting erosion rate estimates with different averaging time scales through geologic time.

Concepts: Present, Time, Earth, Glacier, Erosion, Geomorphology, Geologic time scale, Palynology


The successful establishment of agricultural crops depends on sowing quality, machinery performance, soil type and conditions, among other factors. This study evaluates the operational quality of mechanized peanut sowing in three soil types (sand, silt, and clay) with variable moisture contents. The experiment was conducted in three locations in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The track-sampling scheme was used for 80 sampling locations of each soil type. Descriptive statistics and statistical process control (SPC) were used to evaluate the quality indicators of mechanized peanut sowing. The variables had normal distributions and were stable from the viewpoint of SPC. The best performance for peanut sowing density, normal spacing, and the initial seedling growing stand was found for clayey soil followed by sandy soil and then silty soil. Sandy or clayey soils displayed similar results regarding sowing depth, which was deeper than in the silty soil. Overall, the texture and the moisture of clayey soil provided the best operational performance for mechanized peanut sowing.

Concepts: Soil, Erosion, Silt, Sand, Clay, Loess, Statistical process control, W. Edwards Deming


Soil water shortage is a major factor influencing the ecology and hydrology of vegetation in China’s semihumid Loess Plateau. However, few studies have experimentally assessed how expected changes in precipitation will affect sap flow in semihumid forest ecosystems. In this study, we measured the sap flow of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia Linn.) under ambient and drought (induced by throughfall exclusion) conditions in 2015 and 2016, and investigated the relationship between stand transpiration and environmental factors in the semihumid China’s Loess Plateau. Throughfall exclusion significantly decreased sap flux density and stand transpiration by 39% and 28%, respectively, in 2016, which may have been due to the cumulative droughts effect from both 2015 and 2016. Throughfall exclusion caused a significant reduction in soil moisture, leaf area index (LAI), and stem diameter. Stand transpiration was positively correlated with LAI (P < 0.01), but precipitation and soil moisture did not correlate with stand transpiration at a daily timescale, suggesting that LAI can be used as a proxy for stand transpiration. Our results highlight that precipitation must be considered when planting black locust in semihumid regions. These findings provide basic information about the management of water resources and vegetation restoration in the semihumid China's Loess Plateau and possibly other water-limited regions around the world.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Soil, Hydrology, Erosion, Water crisis, Robinia pseudoacacia, Drought