Soil erosion along a transect in a forested catchment: Recent or ancient processes?

Francesca Calitri*, Michael Sommer, Marijn W. van der Meij, Markus Egli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Forested areas are assumed not to be influenced by erosion processes. However, forest soils of Northern Germany in a hummocky ground moraine landscape can sometimes exhibit a very shallow thickness on crest positions and buried soils on slope positions. The question consequently is: Are these on-going or ancient erosional and depositional processes? Plutonium isotopes act as soil erosion/deposition tracers for recent (last few decades) processes. Here, we quantified the 239+240Pu inventories in a small, forested catchment (ancient forest “Melzower Forst”, deciduous trees), which is characterised by a hummocky terrain including a kettle hole. Soil development depths (depth to C horizon) and 239+240Pu inventories along a catena of sixteen different profiles were determined and correlated to relief parameters. Moreover, we compared different modelling approaches to derive erosion rates from Pu data. We find a strong relationship between soil development depths, distance-to-sink and topography along the catena. Fully developed Retisols (thicknesses > 1 m) in the colluvium overlay old land surfaces as documented by fossil Ah horizons. However, we found no relationship of Pu-based erosion rates to any relief parameter. Instead, 239+240Pu inventories showed a very high local, spatial variability (36–70 Bq m−2). Low annual rainfall, spatially distributed interception and stem flow might explain the high variability of the 239+240Pu inventories, giving rise to a patchy input pattern. Different models resulted in quite similar erosion and deposition rates (max: −5 t ha−1 yr−1 to +7.3 t ha−1 yr−1). Although some rates are rather high, the magnitude of soil erosion and deposition - in terms of soil thickness change - is negligible during the last 55 years. The partially high values are an effect of the patchy Pu deposition on the forest floor. This forest has been protected for at least 240 years. Therefore rather natural events and anthropogenic activities during medieval times or even earlier must have caused the observed soil pattern, which documents strong erosion and deposition processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104683
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • 239+240 Plutonium
  • Forest
  • Moraine landscape
  • Soil catena
  • Soil erosion


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