The delicate balance between soil production and erosion, and its role on landscape evolution
The diversity in landscapes at the Earth’s surface is the result, amongst other things, of the balance (or imbalance) between soil production and erosion. While erosion rates are well constrained, it is only recently that we have been able to quantify rates of soil production. Uranium-series isotopes have been useful to provide such estimates independently of erosion rates. In this study, new U-series isotope are presented data from weathering profiles developed over andesitic parent rock in Puerto Rico, and granitic bedrock in southeastern Australia. The site in Australia is located on a highland plateau, neighbouring a retreating escarpment where soil production rates between 10 and 50 mm/kyr have been determined. The results show that production rates are invariant in these two regions of Australia with values between 15 and 25 mm/kyr for the new site. Andesitic soils show much faster rates, about 200 mm/ kyr. Overall, soil production rates determined with U-series isotopes range between 10 and 200 mm/ kyr. This is comparable to erosion rates in soil-mantled landscapes, but faster than erosion in cratonic areas and slower than in alpine regions and cultivated areas. This suggests that soil-mantled landscapes maintain soil because they can: there is a balance between production and erosion. Similarly, thick weathering profiles develop in cratonic areas because, despite slow erosion rates, soil production is still significant. Bare landscapes in Alpine regions are probably the result of the inability of soil production to catch up with fast erosion rates, although this needs testing by U-series isotope studies of these regions. Finally, the range of production rates is up to several orders of magnitude lower than erosion rates in cultivated areas, demonstrating quantitatively the fast depletion of soil resources with common agricultural practices.
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