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Carbon redistribution by erosion processes in an intensively disturbed catchment

AuthorsBoix-Fayos, Carolina ; Martínez-Mena García, M. Dolores ; Pérez-Cutillas, Pedro ; Vente, Joris de ; González Barberá, Gonzalo ; Mosch, Wouter; Navarro-Cano, J. A. ; Gaspar Ferrer, Leticia ; Navas Izquierdo, Ana
KeywordsSoil organic carbon
Organic carbon pools
Sediment dynamics
catchment scale
Issue DateFeb-2017
CitationCatena 149(3): 799–809 (2017)
AbstractUnderstanding how organic carbon (OC) moves with sediments along the fluvial system is crucial to determining catchment scale carbon budgets and helps the proper management of fragile ecosystems. Especially challenging is the analysis of OC dynamics during fluvial transport in heterogeneous, fragile, and disturbed environments with ephemeral and intense hydrological pulses, typical of Mediterranean conditions. This paper explores the catchment scale OC redistribution by lateral flows in extreme Mediterranean environmental conditions, from a geomorphological perspective. The study area is a catchment (Cárcavo) in SE Spain with a semiarid climate, erodible lithologies, and shallow soils, which is highly disturbed by agricultural terraces, land levelling, reforestation, and construction of check-dams. To increase our understanding of catchment scale OC redistribution induced by erosion, we studied in detail the subcatchments of eight check-dams distributed along the catchments main channel. We determined 137Cs, physicochemical characteristics, and the OC pools of the catchment soils and sediments deposited behind each check-dam, performed spatial analysis of catchment properties and buffer areas around the check-dams, and carried out geomorphological analysis of the slope-channel connections. The soils showed very low total organic carbon (TOC) values, oscillating between 15.2 and 4.4 g kg− 1 for forest and agricultural soils, respectively. Sediments mobilized by erosion were poor in TOC (6.6 ± 0.7 g kg– 1) compared to the eroded (forest) soils, and the redistribution of OC through the catchment, especially of the mineral associated organic carbon (MAC) pool, showed the same pattern as clay particles and 137Cs. The TOC erosion rates estimated for the Cárcavo watershed are relatively low (0.031 ± 0.03 Mg ha− 1 y− 1) but similar to those reported for subhumid Mediterranean catchments that are less fragile and more conducive to plant growth. The TOC erosion/total erosion ratio was lower (0.06%) than other estimates, although the average OC concentration of the sediments was higher than that of the agricultural soils of the catchment, underlining the problem of maintaining sustainable soil OC contents. The OC in deposited sediments came not only from surface erosion processes, but also from deeper soil or sediment layers mobilized by concentrated erosion processes. Sediment richer in OC came from the surface soil of vegetated (reforested) areas close and well connected to the channels. Subcatchments dominated by laminar erosion processes showed a TOC erosion/total erosion ratio that was two times higher than that of subcatchments dominated by concentrated flow erosion processes. The lithology, soils, and geomorphology exert a more important control on OC redistribution than land use and vegetation cover in this geomorphologically very active catchment.
Description29 Pags.- 6 Tabls.- 6 Figs. This article belongs to a special issue of Catena titled "Geoecology in Mediterranean mountain areas. Tribute to Professor José María García Ruiz". The definitive version is available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/03418162
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.catena.2016.08.003
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