Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Geomorphology


Here we show that constructal-law physics unifies the design of animate and inanimate movement by requiring that larger bodies move farther, and their movement on the landscape last longer. The life span of mammals must scale as the body mass (M) raised to the power ¼, and the distance traveled during the lifetime must increase with body size. The same size effect on life span and distance traveled holds for the other flows that move mass on earth: atmospheric and oceanic jets and plumes, river basins, animals and human operated vehicles. The physics is the same for all flow systems on the landscape: the scaling rules of “design” are expressions of the natural tendency of all flow systems to generate designs that facilitate flow access. This natural tendency is the constructal law of design and evolution in nature. Larger bodies are more efficient movers of mass on the landscape.

Concepts: Evolution, Life, Physics, Mass, Force, Effect size, Nature, Geomorphology


Martian habitats are ideally constructed using only locally available soils; extant attempts to process structural materials on Mars, however, generally require additives or calcination. In this work we demonstrate that Martian soil simulant Mars-1a can be directly compressed at ambient into a strong solid without additives, highlighting a possible aspect of complete Martian in-situ resource utilization. Flexural strength of the compact is not only determined by the compaction pressure but also significantly influenced by the lateral boundary condition of processing loading. The compression loading can be applied either quasi-statically or through impact. Nanoparticulate iron oxide (npOx), commonly detected in Martian regolith, is identified as the bonding agent. Gas permeability of compacted samples was measured to be on the order of 10(-16) m(2), close to that of solid rocks. The compaction procedure is adaptive to additive manufacturing.

Concepts: Oxygen, Soil, Mars, Geology, Compact space, Regolith, Geomorphology, In-situ resource utilization


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


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


Longitudinal connectivity is a fundamental characteristic of rivers that can be disrupted by natural and anthropogenic processes. Dams are significant disruptions to streams. Over 2,000,000 low-head dams (<7.6 m high) fragment United States rivers. Despite potential adverse impacts of these ubiquitous disturbances, the spatial impacts of low-head dams on geomorphology and ecology are largely untested. Progress for research and conservation is impaired by not knowing the magnitude of low-head dam impacts. Based on the geomorphic literature, we refined a methodology that allowed us to quantify the spatial extent of low-head dam impacts (herein dam footprint), assessed variation in dam footprints across low-head dams within a river network, and identified select aspects of the context of this variation. Wetted width, depth, and substrate size distributions upstream and downstream of six low-head dams within the Upper Neosho River, Kansas, United States of America were measured. Total dam footprints averaged 7.9 km (3.0-15.3 km) or 287 wetted widths (136-437 wetted widths). Estimates included both upstream (mean: 6.7 km or 243 wetted widths) and downstream footprints (mean: 1.2 km or 44 wetted widths). Altogether the six low-head dams impacted 47.3 km (about 17%) of the mainstem in the river network. Despite differences in age, size, location, and primary function, the sizes of geomorphic footprints of individual low-head dams in the Upper Neosho river network were relatively similar. The number of upstream dams and distance to upstream dams, but not dam height, affected the spatial extent of dam footprints. In summary, ubiquitous low-head dams individually and cumulatively altered lotic ecosystems. Both characteristics of individual dams and the context of neighboring dams affected low-head dam impacts within the river network. For these reasons, low-head dams require a different, more integrative, approach for research and management than the individualistic approach that has been applied to larger dams.

Concepts: United States, River, Individualism, Dam, Flood, Geomorphology, Sediment transport, Levee


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


This research investigated how the strength of vegetation-soil-topography couplings varied along a gradient of biogeomorphic succession in two distinct fluvial systems: a forested river floodplain and a coastal salt marsh creek. The strength of couplings was quantified as tri-variance, which was calculated by correlating three singular axes, one each extracted using three-block partial least squares from vegetation, soil, and topography data blocks. Within each system, tri-variance was examined at low-, mid-, and high-elevation sites, which represented early-, intermediate-, and late-successional phases, respectively, and corresponded to differences in ongoing disturbance frequency and intensity. Both systems exhibited clearly increasing tri-variance from the early- to late-successional stages. The lowest-lying sites underwent frequent and intense hydrogeomorphic forcings that dynamically reworked soil substrates, restructured surface landforms, and controlled the colonization of plant species. Such conditions led vegetation, soil, and topography to show discrete, stochastic, and individualistic behaviors over space and time, resulting in a loose coupling among the three ecosystem components. In the highest-elevation sites, in contrast, disturbances that might disrupt the existing biotic-abiotic relationships were less common. Hence, ecological succession, soil-forming processes, and landform evolution occurred in tight conjunction with one another over a prolonged period, thereby strengthening couplings among them; namely, the three behaved in unity over space and time. We propose that the recurrence interval of physical disturbance is important to-and potentially serves as an indicator of-the intensity and mechanisms of vegetation-soil-topography feedbacks in fluvial biogeomorphic systems.

Concepts: Time, Ecology, Gradient, Ecosystem, Partial derivative, Ecological succession, Geomorphology, Landform


Human activity and related land use change are the primary cause of accelerated soil erosion, which has substantial implications for nutrient and carbon cycling, land productivity and in turn, worldwide socio-economic conditions. Here we present an unprecedentedly high resolution (250 × 250 m) global potential soil erosion model, using a combination of remote sensing, GIS modelling and census data. We challenge the previous annual soil erosion reference values as our estimate, of 35.9 Pg yr-1 of soil eroded in 2012, is at least two times lower. Moreover, we estimate the spatial and temporal effects of land use change between 2001 and 2012 and the potential offset of the global application of conservation practices. Our findings indicate a potential overall increase in global soil erosion driven by cropland expansion. The greatest increases are predicted to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. The least developed economies have been found to experience the highest estimates of soil erosion rates.

Concepts: Africa, Soil, Erosion, Surface runoff, Drought, Geomorphology, Deforestation, Desertification


The formation, functioning and emergent properties of patterned landscapes have recently drawn increased attention, notably in semi-arid ecosystems. We describe and analyze a set of similarly spectacular landforms in seasonal tropical wetlands. Surales landscapes, comprised of densely packed, regularly spaced mounds, cover large areas of the Orinoco Llanos. Although descriptions of surales date back to the 1940’s, their ecology is virtually unknown. From data on soil physical and chemical properties, soil macrofauna, vegetation and aerial imagery, we provide evidence of the spatial extent of surales and how they form and develop. Mounds are largely comprised of earthworm casts. Recognizable, recently produced casts account for up to one-half of total soil mass. Locally, mounds are relatively constant in size, but vary greatly across sites in diameter (0.5-5 m) and height (from 0.3 m to over 2 m). This variation appears to reflect a chronosequence of surales formation and growth. Mound shape (round to labyrinth) varies across elevational gradients. Mounds are initiated when large earthworms feed in shallowly flooded soils, depositing casts that form ‘towers’ above water level. Using permanent galleries, each earthworm returns repeatedly to the same spot to deposit casts and to respire. Over time, the tower becomes a mound. Because each earthworm has a restricted foraging radius, there is net movement of soil to the mound from the surrounding area. As the mound grows, its basin thus becomes deeper, making initiation of a new mound nearby more difficult. When mounds already initiated are situated close together, the basin between them is filled and mounds coalesce to form larger composite mounds. Over time, this process produces mounds up to 5 m in diameter and 2 m tall. Our results suggest that one earthworm species drives self-organizing processes that produce keystone structures determining ecosystem functioning and development.

Concepts: Soil, Ecosystem, Emergence, Self-organization, Earthworm, Ecosystem ecology, Geomorphology


A monitoring survey was conducted from August 2011 to July 2016 of the spatiotemporal distribution in the 400 km2 area of the northern part of Tokyo Bay and in rivers flowing into it of radiocesium released from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident. The average inventory in the river mouth (10 km2) was 131 kBq⋅m-2 and 0.73 kBq⋅m-2 in the central bay (330 km2) as the decay corrected value on March 16, 2011. Most of the radiocesium that flowed into Tokyo Bay originated in the northeastern section of the Tokyo metropolitan area, where the highest precipitation zone of 137Cs in soil was almost the same level as that in Fukushima City, then flowed into and was deposited in the Old-Edogawa River estuary, deep in Tokyo Bay. The highest precipitation of radiocesium measured in the high contaminated zone was 460 kBq⋅m-2. The inventory in sediment off the estuary of Old-Edogawa was 20.1 kBq⋅m-2 in August 2011 immediately after the accident, but it increased to 104 kBq⋅m-2 in July 2016. However, the radiocesium diffused minimally in sediments in the central area of Tokyo Bay in the five years following the FDNPP accident. The flux of radiocesium off the estuary decreased slightly immediately after the accident and conformed almost exactly to the values predicted based on its radioactive decay. Contrarily, the inventory of radiocesium in the sediment has increased. It was estimated that of the 8.33 TBq precipitated from the atmosphere in the catchment regions of the rivers Edogawa and Old-Edogawa, 1.31 TBq migrated through rivers and was deposited in the sediments of the Old-Edogawa estuary by July 2016. Currently, 0.25 TBq⋅yr-1 of radiocesium continues to flow into the deep parts of Tokyo Bay.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Estuary, Stream, River delta, Gravel, Geomorphology, Tokyo