Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
Research article
30 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 30 Jan 2017

Soilscape evolution of aeolian-dominated hillslopes during the Holocene: investigation of sediment transport mechanisms and climatic–anthropogenic drivers

Sagy Cohen, Tal Svoray, Shai Sela, Greg Hancock, and Garry Willgoose

Abstract. Here we study the soilscape (soil-landscape) evolution of a field site in the semiarid zone of Israel. This region, like similar regions around the world, was subject to intensive loess accumulation during the Pleistocene and early Holocene. Today, hillslopes in this region are dominated by exposed bedrock with deep loess depositions in the valleys and floodplains. The drivers and mechanism that led to this soilscape are unclear. Within this context, we use a soilscape evolution model (mARM5D) to study the potential mechanisms that led to this soilscape. We focus on advancing our conceptual understanding of the processes at the core of this soilscape evolution by studying the effects of fluvial and diffusive sediment transport mechanisms, and the potential effects of climatic and anthropogenic drivers. Our results show that, in our field site, dominated by aeolian soil development, hillslope fluvial sediment transport (e.g., surface wash and gullies) led to downslope thinning in soil, while diffusive transport (e.g., soil creep) led to deeper and more localized soil features at the lower sections of the hillslopes. The results suggest that, in this semiarid, aeolian-dominated and soil-depleted landscape, the top section of the hillslopes is dominated by diffusive transport and the bottom by fluvial transport. Temporal variability in environmental drivers had a considerable effect on soilscape evolution. Short but intensive changes during the late Holocene, imitating anthropogenic land use alterations, rapidly changed the site's soil distribution. This leads us to assume that this region's soil-depleted hillslopes are, at least in part, the result of anthropogenic drivers.

Short summary
Soil-depleted hillslopes across the Mediterranean and Europe are thought to be the result of human activity in the last 2–5 millennia. We study a site on the margin between Mediterranean and desert climates which was subject to intense wind-borne soil accumulation for tens of thousands of years but is now mostly bare. Using a numerical simulator we investigated the processes that may have led to this landscape and identified the specific signatures of different processes and drivers.