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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Landscape and Watershed Processes

Characterizing Land Surface Erosion from Cesium-137 Profiles in Lake and Reservoir Sediments


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 34 No. 2, p. 514-523
    Received: June 4, 2004

    * Corresponding author(s): d.e.walling@exeter.ac.uk
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  1. Xinbao Zhanga and
  2. Desmond E. Walling *b
  1. a Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, PO Box 417, Chengdu, China, and SKLLQG, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xian, China
    b Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Exeter, EX4 4RJ, UK, and visiting professor at Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chengdu, China


Recognition of the threat to the sustainable use of the earth's resources posed by soil erosion and associated off-site sedimentation has generated an increasing need for reliable information on global rates of soil loss. Existing methods of assessing rates of soil loss across large areas possess many limitations and there is a need to explore alternative approaches to characterizing land surface erosion at the regional and global scale. The downcore profiles of 137Cs activity available for numerous lakes and reservoirs located in different areas of the world can be used to provide information on land surface erosion within the upstream catchments. The rate of decline of 137Cs activity toward the surface of the sediment deposited in a lake or reservoir can be used to estimate the rate of surface lowering associated with eroding areas within the upstream catchment, and the concentration of 137Cs in recently deposited sediment provides a basis for estimating the relative importance of surface and channel, gully, and/or subsurface erosion as a source of the deposited sediment. The approach has been tested using 137Cs data from several lakes and reservoirs in southern England and China, spanning a wide range of specific suspended sediment yield. The results obtained are consistent with other independent evidence of erosion rates and sediment sources within the lake and reservoir catchments and confirm the validity of the overall approach. The approach appears to offer valuable potential for characterizing land surface erosion, particularly in terms of its ability to provide information on the rate of surface lowering associated with the eroding areas, rather than an average rate of lowering for the entire catchment surface.

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