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Concept: Erosion


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


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


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


Drylands cover 40% of the global terrestrial surface and provide important ecosystem services. While drylands as a whole are expected to increase in extent and aridity in coming decades, temperature and precipitation forecasts vary by latitude and geographic region suggesting different trajectories for tropical, subtropical, and temperate drylands. Uncertainty in the future of tropical and subtropical drylands is well constrained, whereas soil moisture and ecological droughts, which drive vegetation productivity and composition, remain poorly understood in temperate drylands. Here we show that, over the twenty first century, temperate drylands may contract by a third, primarily converting to subtropical drylands, and that deep soil layers could be increasingly dry during the growing season. These changes imply major shifts in vegetation and ecosystem service delivery. Our results illustrate the importance of appropriate drought measures and, as a global study that focuses on temperate drylands, highlight a distinct fate for these highly populated areas.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Soil, Ecosystem, Hydrology, Erosion


The Himalayan mountains are dissected by some of the deepest and most impressive gorges on Earth. Constraining the interplay between river incision and rock uplift is important for understanding tectonic deformation in this region. We report here the discovery of a deeply incised canyon of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, at the eastern end of the Himalaya, which is now buried under more than 500 meters of sediments. By reconstructing the former valley bottom and dating sediments at the base of the valley fill, we show that steepening of the Tsangpo Gorge started at about 2 million to 2.5 million years ago as a consequence of an increase in rock uplift rates. The high erosion rates within the gorge are therefore a direct consequence of rapid rock uplift.

Concepts: People's Republic of China, Erosion, Himalayas, Yarlung Zangbo River, Brahmaputra River, Geography of Tibet, Rivers of Tibet, Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon


The interrelationships between hydrologically driven evolution of legacy landscapes downstream of major mining districts and the contamination of lowland ecosystems are poorly understood over centennial time scales. Here, we demonstrate within piedmont valleys of California’s Sierra Nevada, through new and historical data supported by modeling, that anthropogenic fans produced by 19th century gold mining comprise an episodically persistent source of sediment-adsorbed Hg to lowlands. Within the enormous, iconic Yuba Fan, we highlight (i) an apparent shift in the relative processes of fan evolution from gradual vertical channel entrenchment to punctuated lateral erosion of fan terraces, thus enabling entrainment of large volumes of Hg-laden sediment during individual floods, and (ii) systematic intrafan redistribution and downstream progradation of fan sediment into the Central Valley, triggered by terrace erosion during increasingly long, 10-y flood events. Each major flood apparently erodes stored sediment and delivers to sensitive lowlands the equivalent of ∼10-30% of the entire postmining Sierran Hg mass so far conveyed to the San Francisco Bay-Delta (SFBD). This process of protracted but episodic erosion of legacy sediment and associated Hg is likely to persist for >10(4) y. It creates, within an immense swath of river corridor well upstream of the SFBD, new contaminated floodplain surfaces primed for Hg methylation and augments/replenishes potential Hg sources to the SFBD. Anticipation, prediction, and management of toxic sediment delivery, and corresponding risks to lowland ecology and human society globally, depend on the morphodynamic stage of anthropogenic fan evolution, synergistically coupled to changing frequency of and duration extreme floods.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Erosion, California, California Gold Rush, Flood, Terrace


The history of atmospheric O2 partial pressures (Po2) is inextricably linked to the coevolution of life and Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. Reconstructions of past Po2 rely on models and proxies but often markedly disagree. We present a record of Po2 reconstructed using O2/N2 ratios from ancient air trapped in ice. This record indicates that Po2 declined by 7 per mil (0.7%) over the past 800,000 years, requiring that O2 sinks were ~2% larger than sources. This decline is consistent with changes in burial and weathering fluxes of organic carbon and pyrite driven by either Neogene cooling or increasing Pleistocene erosion rates. The 800,000-year record of steady average carbon dioxide partial pressures (Pco2) but declining Po2 provides distinctive evidence that a silicate weathering feedback stabilizes Pco2 on million-year time scales.

Concepts: Time, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, Carbon, Mineral, Erosion, Weathering