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Pre-agricultural soil erosion rates in the midwestern United States

Caroline L. Quarrier, Jeffrey S. Kwang, Brendon J. Quirk, Evan A. Thaler and Isaac J. Larsen
Pre-agricultural soil erosion rates in the midwestern United States
Geology (Boulder) (December 2022) 51 (1): 44-48


Erosion degrades soils and undermines agricultural productivity. For agriculture to be sustainable, soil erosion rates must be low enough to maintain fertile soil. Hence, quantifying both pre-agricultural and agricultural erosion rates is vital for determining whether farming practices are sustainable. However, there have been few measurements of pre-agricultural erosion rates in major farming areas where soils form from Pleistocene deposits. We quantified pre-agricultural erosion rates in the midwestern United States, one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. We sampled soil profiles from 14 native prairies and used in situ-produced (super 10) Be and geochemical mass balance to calculate physical erosion rates. The median pre-agricultural erosion rate of 0.04 mm yr (super -1) is orders of magnitude lower than agricultural values previously measured in adjacent fields, as is a site-averaged diffusion coefficient (0.005 m (super 2) yr (super -1) ) calculated from erosion rate and topographic curvature data. The long-term erosion rates are also one to four orders of magnitude lower than the assumed 1 mm yr (super -1) soil loss tolerance value assigned to these locations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hence, quantifying long-term erosion rates using cosmogenic nuclides provides a means for more robustly defining rates of tolerable erosion and for developing management guidelines that promote soil sustainability.

ISSN: 0091-7613
EISSN: 1943-2682
Serial Title: Geology (Boulder)
Serial Volume: 51
Serial Issue: 1
Title: Pre-agricultural soil erosion rates in the midwestern United States
Affiliation: University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Geosciences, Amherst, MA, United States
Pages: 44-48
Published: 20221202
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
References: 36
Accession Number: 2023-004497
Categories: Soils
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. sketch map
N40°00'00" - N45°00'00", W100°00'00" - W90°00'00"
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2023, 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: 202304
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