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Interrill soil erosion processes on steep slopes

Zhang, X.C. (John), Wang, Z.L.
Journal of hydrology 2017 v.548 pp. 652-664
energy, erodibility, interrill erosion, loam soils, loess, rain, rain intensity, rainfall simulation, runoff, sand, sediment transport, sediment yield, silt, soil erosion models
To date interrill erosion processes are not fully understood under different rainfall and soil conditions. The objectives are to 1) identify the interrill erosion regime and limiting process under the study condition, 2) characterize the interactive effects of rainfall intensity and flow depth on sediment transport competency and mode, and 3) develop a lumped interrill erosion model. A loess loam soil with 39% sand and 45% silt was packed to flumes and exposed to simulated rainfall. A complete factorial design with three factors was used, which included rainfall intensity (48, 62, 102, 149, and 170mmh−1), slope gradient (17.6, 26.8, 36.4, 46.6, and 57.7%), and slope length (0.4, 0.8, 1.2, 1.6, and 2m). Rain splash, sediment discharge in runoff, and flow velocity were measured. Results showed that rainfall intensity played a dual role not only in detaching soil materials but also in enhancing sediment transport. Sediment transport was the process limiting interrill erosion rate under the study condition. Two major sediment transport modes were identified: rainfall-driven rolling/creeping and flow-driven rolling/sliding. The relative importance of each mode was largely determined by flow depth. The competence of the flow in transporting sediment decreased downslope as flow depth increased due to increased dissipation of raindrop energy. The optimal mean flow depth for the maximal interrill erosion rates was <0.1mm, which is much shallower than the widely reported 2mm. Slope length was negatively related to interrill erosion rate. The negative correlation seemed stronger for heavier rains, indicating the cushioning effects of flow depth. Lumped interrill erosion models, developed from short slopes, are likely to overestimate erosion rates. Given transport as the limiting process, the so called erodibility value, estimated with those models, is indeed sediment transportability under the study condition. The effects of slope length on interrill erosion regimes need to be studied further under a wider range of conditions.