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Rapid Increase in the Lateral Transport of Trace Elements Induced by Soil Erosion in Major Karst Regions in China

Liu, Maodian, Zhang, Qianru, Ge, Shidong, Mason, Robert P., Luo, Yao, He, Yipeng, Xie, Han, Sa, Rina, Chen, Long, Wang, Xuejun
Environmental science & technology 2019 v.53 no.8 pp. 4206-4214
anthropogenic activities, aquatic environment, arsenic, cadmium, carbon cycle, chromium, climatic factors, copper, desertification, inventories, karsts, lead, mercury, models, nickel, soil, soil conservation, soil erosion, terrestrial ecosystems, zinc, China
Soil erosion, which has been recently shown to significantly perturb carbon cycling, occurs naturally but can be either enhanced or reduced by human activities. However, the impacts of soil erosion on terrestrial contaminant cycles remain unclear. Here, we select eight trace elements, i.e., arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, and mercury, to examine the erosional impacts of the elements’ fate and transport across China. By synthesizing the detailed distribution of soil erosion fluxes, soil element inventories, and diverse modeling methods, we reveal that while human activities have reduced the lateral transport of these elements in the Loess Plateau (Central North China, a 56% decline in the past two decades with a range of 46% to 110%) due to soil conservation projects, they have increased these transport fluxes in China’s major karst regions (Southwest China, a 84% increase with a range of 55% to 150%) because of severe rocky desertification. These fluxes have completely overwhelmed the soil conservation efforts in the Loess Plateau. Fluxes of these elements into aquatic environments from Southwest China reached 46% of the total input in China in 2010. These fluxes were higher than the inputs from point sources in the region by a factor of 50 because of impacts of excessive agricultural cultivation and geographical and climatic factors. These findings indicate the enormous perturbation of terrestrial contaminant cycles caused by soil erosion in karst regions and demonstrate the need for long-term sustainable management of soil erosion and contaminant discharge to protect fragile terrestrial ecosystems.