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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ASSESSING CONSERVATION EFFECTS ON WATER QUANTITY AND QUALITY AT FIELD AND WATERSHED SCALES

Location: National Soil Erosion Research Lab

Title: The role of subsurface hydrology in soil erosion and channel network development on a laboratory hillslope

Authors
item Nouwakpo, S -
item Huang, Chi Hua

Submitted to: European Geosciences Union General Assembly Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: February 13, 2012
Publication Date: April 22, 2012
Citation: Nouwakpo, S., Huang, C. 2012. The role of subsurface hydrology in soil erosion and channel network development on a laboratory hillslope [abstract]. European Geosciences Union General Assembly Proceedings, April 22-27, 2012, Vienna, Austria. 2012 CD ROM.

Technical Abstract: Ephemeral gully erosion is currently considered one of the dominant sources of soil loss from the agricultural landscape. It is assumed to be the result of surface flow concentration with hydraulic properties exceeding a given threshold for channel initiation. In this paper, we devised a laboratory experiment to show how subsurface hydrology impacts channel network development and soil loss. A series of rainfall-runoff experiments were conducted on a 9.75 m x 3.66 m laboratory hillslope set under drainage or oversaturation (seepage) condition. Soil loss was monitored by collecting runoff samples and by digitizing the soil surface at regular time intervals using digital photogrammetry. We found that the seepage condition produced erosion rates 2.1 times as high as those measured under drainage condition for a high rainfall-runoff intensity (34 mm/h effective rainfall) and 1.6 times as high for a low intensity (17 mm/h effective rainfall). After 1:2 cubic meter of runoff the soil under seepage condition lost on average 1.9 times more soil than the one under drainage condition. Digital photogrammetry performed well at quantifying elevation changes due to channel network development and suggested that channel erosion rates were 1.5 times higher for the seepage condition. We also found an effect of rainfall-runoff intensity on interrill sediment load, supporting a previously proposed model for interrill erosion relating sediment load to rainfall intensity and to the square root of runoff rate. Finally, elevation change patterns observed during each rainfall-runoff event were found to be more consistent with the simultaneous erosion deposition theory as opposed to the sediment transport capacity concept as a sediment transport mechanism. This study demonstrated that subsurface hydrology might be a controlling factor in the location, initiation and rate of development of ephemeral gullies.

Last Modified: 12/21/2014
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