Quantifying erosional equilibrium across a slowly eroding, soil mantled landscape

Arjun M. Heimsath, Oliver A. Chadwick, Josh J. Roering, Shaun R. Levick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The textbook concept of an equilibrium landscape, which posits that soil production and erosion are balanced and equal channel incision, is rarely quantified for natural systems. In contrast to mountainous, rapidly eroding terrain, low relief and slow-eroding landscapes are poorly studied despite being widespread and densely inhabited. We use three field sites along a climosequence in South Africa to quantify very slow (2-5 m/My) soil production rates that do not vary across hillslopes or with climate. We show these rates to be indistinguishable from spatially invariant catchment-average erosion rates while soil depth and chemical weathering increase strongly with rainfall across our sites. Our analyses imply landscape-scale equilibrium although the dominant means of denudation varies from physical weathering in dry climates to chemical weathering in wet climates. In the two wetter sites, chemical weathering is so significant that clay translocates both vertically in soil columns and horizontally down hillslope catenas, resulting in particle size variation and the accumulation of buried stone lines at the clay-rich depth. We infer hundred-thousand-year residence times of these stone lines and suggest that bioturbation by termites plays a key role in exhuming sediment into the mobile soil layer from significant depths below the clay layer. Our results suggest how tradeoffs in physical and chemical weathering, potentially modulated by biological processes, shape slowly eroding, equilibrium landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-510
Number of pages12
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Volume45
Issue number3
Early online date27 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2020

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