The Role of Vegetation and Mulch in Mitigating the Impact of Raindrops on Soils in Urban Vegetated Green Infrastructure Systems

Monday, 15 December 2014
Bita Alizadehtazi, Franco A Montalto and Kurt Sjoblom, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, United States
Raindrop impulses applied to soils can break up larger soil aggregates into smaller particles, dispersing them from their original position. The displaced particles can self-stratify, with finer particles at the top forming a crust. Occurrence of this phenomenon reduces the infiltration rate and increases runoff, contributing to downstream flooding, soil erosion, and non point source pollutant loads. Unprotected soil surfaces (e.g. without vegetation canopies, mulch, or other materials), are more susceptible to crust formation due to the higher kinetic energy associated with raindrop impact. By contrast, soil that is protected by vegetation canopies and mulch layers is less susceptible to crust formation, since these surfaces intercept raindrops, dissipating some of their kinetic energy prior to their impact with the soil. Within this context, this presentation presents preliminary laboratory work conducted using a rainfall simulator to determine the ability of new urban vegetation and mulch to minimize soil crust formation. Three different scenarios are compared: a) bare soil, b) soil with mulch cover, and c) soil protected by vegetation canopies. Soil moisture, surface penetration resistance, and physical measurements of the volume of infiltrate and runoff are made on all three surface treatments after simulated rainfall events. The results are used to develop recommendations regarding surface treatment in green infrastructure (GI) system designs, namely whether heavily vegetated GI facilities require mulching to maintain infiltration capacity.