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Quantifying human impacts on rates of erosion and sediment transport at a landscape scale

Lucas Reusser, Paul Bierman and Dylan Rood
Quantifying human impacts on rates of erosion and sediment transport at a landscape scale
Geology (Boulder) (February 2015) 43 (2): 171-174


Establishing background (geologic) rates of erosion is prerequisite to quantifying the impact of human activities on Earth's surface. Here, we present (super 10) Be estimates of background erosion rates for ten large (10,000-100,000 km (super 2) ) river basins in the southeastern United States, an area that was cleared of native forest and used intensively for agriculture. These (super 10) Be-based rates are indicative of the pace at which the North American passive-margin landscape eroded before European settlement ( approximately 8 m/m.y.). Comparing these background rates to both rates of post-settlement hillslope erosion and to river sediment yields for the same basins, we find that following peak disturbance (late 1800s and early 1900s), rates of hillslope erosion ( approximately 950 m/m.y.) exceeded (super 10) Be-determined background rates more than one-hundred fold. Although large-basin sediment yields during peak disturbance increased 5-10X above pre-settlement norms, rivers at the time were transporting only approximately 6% of the eroded material; work by others suggests that the bulk of historically eroded material remained and still remains as legacy sediment stored at the base of hillslopes and along valley bottoms. Because background erosion rates, such as we present here, reflect the rate at which soil is generated over millennial time scales, they can inform and enhance landscape-management strategies.

ISSN: 0091-7613
EISSN: 1943-2682
Serial Title: Geology (Boulder)
Serial Volume: 43
Serial Issue: 2
Title: Quantifying human impacts on rates of erosion and sediment transport at a landscape scale
Affiliation: University of Vermont, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, Burlington, VT, United States
Pages: 171-174
Published: 201502
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
References: 34
Accession Number: 2015-016290
Categories: Environmental geologySedimentary petrology
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Annotation: GSA Data Repository item 2015064
Illustration Description: illus. incl. sketch map
Secondary Affiliation: Imperial College London-South Kensington Campus, GBR, United Kingdom
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2017, American Geosciences Institute. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States. Reference includes data supplied by the Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO, United States
Update Code: 201508
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