A simulation study of the role of raindrop erosion in the formation of desert pavements



A simple model of raindrop erosion—the combined effects of the detachment of sediment by raindrops and its transport by splash or by overland flow—is developed to examine the role of this process in the formation of desert pavements. Application of the model to soils in areas of existing pavement initially simulates the formation of pavements, but the changing sediment size distributions lead to the subsequent destruction of these modelled surfaces. An improved model that accounts for the feedback effects of the changing size distributions on infiltration and microtopography is then developed. Incorporating these effects allows simulated pavements to be maintained over longer periods. The model yields desert pavements whose particle size compositions differ in response to differences in initial soil characteristics, slope and rainfall intensity. This model is tested against empirical data from a site where there is intershrub pavement and associated mounds of fines beneath desert shrubs. The results successfully predict the accumulation of fines under shrubs but underestimate the development of the pavement between shrubs. These findings suggest that the raindrop erosion mechanism on its own cannot account for the development of the pavement and that some other mechanism leading to the surface concentration of coarse particles must also be operating.