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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2019-8
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2019-8
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Original research article 05 Mar 2019

Original research article | 05 Mar 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal SOIL (SOIL).

Arable soil formation and erosion: a hillslope-based cosmogenic-nuclide study in the United Kingdom

Daniel L. Evans1, John N. Quinton1, Andrew M. Tye2, Ángel Rodés3, Jessica A. C. Davies1, and Simon M. Mudd4 Daniel L. Evans et al.
  • 1Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, Lancashire, UK
  • 2British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, UK
  • 3Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, East Kilbride, UK
  • 4School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Abstract. Arable soils are critical resources that support multiple ecosystem services. They are frequently threatened, however, by accelerated erosion. Subsequently, policy to ensure their long-term security is an urgent societal priority. Although long-term security relies upon a balance between the rates of soil loss and formation, there have been few investigations of the formation rates of soils supporting arable agriculture. This paper addresses this knowledge gap by presenting the first isotopically-constrained soil formation rates for an arable (Nottinghamshire, UK) and coniferous woodland hillslope (Shropshire, UK). Rates ranged from 0.023 mm year−1 to 0.064 mm year−1 across the two sites. These rates fall within the range of previously published rates for soils in temperate climates and on sandstone lithologies but significantly differed to those measured in the only other UK-based study. We suggest this is due to the parent material at our sites being more susceptible to weathering. Furthermore, soil formation rates were found to be greatest for aeolian-derived sandstone when compared with fluvially-derived lithology raising questions about the extent to which the petrographic composition of the parent material governs rates of soil formation. On the hillslope currently supporting arable agriculture, we utilised cosmogenically-derived rates of soil formation and erosion in a first-order lifespan model and found, in a worst-case scenario, that the backslope A horizon could be eroded in 137 years with bedrock exposure occurring in 209 years under the current management regime. These findings represent the first quantitative estimate of cultivated soil lifespans in the UK.

Daniel L. Evans et al.
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Short summary
Policy to conserve thinning arable soils relies on a balance between the rates of soil erosion and soil formation. Our knowledge of the latter is meagre. Here, we present soil formation rates for an arable hillslope, the first of their kind globally, and a woodland hillslope, the first of their kind in Europe. Rates range between 23–64 mm kyr. On the arable site, erosion rates are two orders of magnitude greater and in a worst-case scenario, bedrock exposure could occur in 209 years.
Policy to conserve thinning arable soils relies on a balance between the rates of soil erosion...
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