Articles | Volume 4, issue 4
Research article
19 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 19 Oct 2016

Detection of seasonal cycles of erosion processes in a black marl gully from a time series of high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs)

Jacques Bechet, Julien Duc, Alexandre Loye, Michel Jaboyedoff, Nicolle Mathys, Jean-Philippe Malet, Sébastien Klotz, Caroline Le Bouteiller, Benjamin Rudaz, and Julien Travelletti

Abstract. The Roubine catchment located in the experimental research station of Draix-Bléone (south French Alps) is situated in Callovo-Oxfordian black marls, a lithology particularly prone to erosion and weathering processes. For 30 years, this small watershed (0.13 ha) has been monitored for analysing hillslope processes on the scale of elementary gullies.

Since 2007, surface changes have been monitored by comparing high-resolution digital elevation models (HRDEMs) produced from terrestrial laser scanner (TLS). The objectives are (1) to detect and (2) to quantify the sediment production and the evolution of the gully morphology in terms of sediment availability/transport capacity vs. rainfall and runoff generation. Time series of TLS observations have been acquired periodically based on the seasonal runoff activity with a very high point cloud density ensuring a resolution of the digital elevation model (DEM) on the centimetre scale. The topographic changes over a time span of 2 years are analysed.

Quantitative analyses of the seasonal erosion activity and of the sediment fluxes show and confirm that during winter, loose regolith is created by mechanical weathering, and it is eroded and accumulates in the rills and gullies. Because of limited rainfall intensity in spring, part of the material is transported in the main gullies, which are assumed to be a transport-limited erosion system. In the late spring and summer the rainfall intensities increase, allowing the regolith, weathered and accumulated in the gullies and rills during the earlier seasons, to be washed out. Later in the year the catchment acts as a sediment-limited system because no more loose regolith is available. One interesting result is the fact that in the gullies the erosion–deposition processes are more active around the slope angle value of 35°, which probably indicates a behaviour close to dry granular material.

It is also observed that there exist thresholds for the rainfall events that are able to trigger significant erosion; they are above 9 mm rainfall or of an intensity of more than 1 mm min−1, values which can vary if antecedent precipitation is significant within the last 5 days.

This study improves knowledge of the spatial distribution of erosion seasonality in badlands and demonstrates the potential of careful 3-D high-resolution topography using TLS to improve the understanding of erosive processes.

Short summary
This paper describes the erosion processes of a small black marl catchment. It is based on terrestrial laser scanner digital elevation model campaigns. A detailed sediment budget is performed, leading to a seasonal sediment transport pattern described spatially and temporally. The link with precipitation intensities and duration is analysed, leading to a conceptual model of erosion that provides clear input for future research regarding potential impacts of climate change on erosion processes.