Wind erodibility response of physical and biological crusts to rain and flooding

Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Helene Aubault, University of Loughborough, Loughborough, United Kingdom
Soil surface crusts are important controllers of the small-scale wind entrainment processes that occur across all dust source regions globally. The crust type influences water and wind erosion by impacting infiltration, runoff, threshold wind velocity and surface storage capacity of both water and loose erodible material. The spatial and temporal patterning of both physical and biological crusts is known to change with rainfall and flooding. However, little is known about the impact of differing water quantity (from light rainfall through to flooding) on soil crusting characteristics (strength, roughness, sediment loss). This study compares the response of two soil types (loamy sand - LS, sandy loam - SL) with and without BSCs to three different rainfall events (2mm, 8mm, 15mm). Two BSC treatments were used one that simulated a young cyanobacteria dominated crust and an older flood induced multi species biological crust. For both soil types, soil surface strength increased with increasing rainfall amount with LS having consistently higher resistance to rupture than SL. Regardless of texture, soils with BSCs were more resistant and strength did not change in response to rainfall impact. Soil loss due to wind erosion was substantially higher on bare LS (4 times higher) and SL (3 times higher) soils compared with those with BSCs. Our results also show that young biological crust (formed by the rainfall event) have reduced soil erodibility with notably greater strength, roughness and reduced sediment losses when compared to soils with physical crust. Interestingly though, the erodibility of the old BSC did not differ greatly from that of the young BSC with respect to strength, roughness and sediment loss. This raises questions regarding the rapid soil surface protection offered by young colonising cyanobacteria crusts. Further analyses exploring the role of biological soil crusts on surface response to rainfall and wind saltation impact are ongoing.