A field investigation into the effects of progressive rainfall-induced soil seal and crust development on runoff and erosion rates: The impact of surface cover

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Journal Article
Geomorphology, 2007, 87 (4), pp. 378 - 390
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Surface crusts and seals can form from a variety of processes, both physical and biological, and have the potential to alter runoff and erosion, especially in regions with low vegetation covers. Despite the obvious links between seals and crusts these features have rarely been considered together. This study uses rainfall simulation experiments to investigate interrill soil crust and seal development in response to structural (or raindrop-impact-induced) and depositional (or runoff-induced) processes on a semiarid piedmont in southern New Mexico, USA, which has undergone substantive vegetation change (replacement of grasses by shrubs) over the last 100 years. The study design incorporates six double-paired runoff plots divided into four subplots, each of which was exposed to three rainfall simulation events. Crust development on these plots was assessed using penetration-resistance measurements while seal development was assessed using runoff coefficients. The penetration-resistance data indicate that subplots directly exposed to raindrop impacts (uncovered plots) have crusts that are not, vert, similar 40% stronger than those positioned beneath a mesh cover (covered plots) that intercepts the kinetic energy of the rainfall. The crusts exposed to raindrop-impacts increased in strength following each simulation, whereas the crusts on the covered surfaces reached a plateau after two events.
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