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Keywords:

  • soil piping erosion;
  • subsurface erosion;
  • loess;
  • erosion rate;
  • soil loss

ABSTRACT

Compared with surface soil erosion by water, subsurface erosion (piping) is generally less studied and harder to quantify. However, wherever piping occurs, it is often a significant or even the main sediment source. In this study, the significance of soil loss due to piping is demonstrated through an estimation of soil volume lost from pipes and pipe collapses (n = 560) in 137 parcels under pasture on loess-derived soils in a temperate humid climate (Belgium). Assuming a period of 5 to 10 years for pipe collapse to occur, mean soil loss rates of 2.3 and 4.6 t ha−1 yr−1 are obtained, which are at least one order of magnitude higher than surface erosion rates (0.01–0.29 t ha−1 yr−1) by sheet and rill erosion under a similar land use. The results obtained for the study area in the Flemish Ardennes correspond well to other measurements in temperate environments; they are, however, considerably smaller than soil loss rates due to subsurface erosion in semi-arid environments. Although local slope gradient and drainage area largely control the location of collapsed pipes in the study area, these topographic parameters do not explain differences in eroded volumes by piping. Hence, incorporation of subsurface erosion in erosion models is not straightforward. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.