Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Modeling aeolian erosion in presence of vegetation



Semiarid landscapes are characterized by vegetated surfaces. Understanding the impact of vegetation on aeolian soil erosion is important for reducing soil erosion or limiting crop damage through abrasion or burial. In the present study, a saltation model fully coupled with a large-eddy simulation airflow model is extended to vegetated landscapes. From this model, the sensitivity of sand erosion to different arrangements and type of plants (shrub versus tree) representative of semiarid landscapes is investigated and the wind erosion reduction induced by plants is quantified. We show that saltation processes over vegetated surfaces have a limited impact on the mean wind statistics, the momentum extracted from the flow by saltating particles being negligible compared to that extracted by plants. Simulated sand erosion patterns resulting from plant distribution, i.e., accumulation and erosion areas, appear qualitatively consistent with previous observations. It is shown that sand erosion reduction depends not only on vegetation cover but also on plant morphology and plant distribution relative to the mean wind direction. A simple shear stress partitioning approach applied in shrub cases gives similar trends of sand erosion reduction as the present model following wind direction and vegetation cover. However, the magnitude of the reduction appears significantly different from one approach to another. Although shrubs trap saltating particles, trees appear more efficient than shrubs to reduce sand erosion. This is explained by the large-scale sheltering effect of trees compared to the local shrub one.