Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Using soil residence time to delineate spatial and temporal patterns of transient landscape response



[1] On hillslopes the balance between soil transport and production determines local soil thickness and the age distribution of particles that comprise the soil (where age refers to the time elapsed since detachment from bedrock). The mean of this age distribution is defined as the residence time, and in a landscape with time-invariant topography (i.e., morphologic steady state), the spatial uniformity of soil production ensures that the residence time of soils is spatially invariant. Thus, given constant soil-forming factors, spatial variation of soil properties reflects differences in residence time driven by nonuniform soil production. Spatially extensive soil databases, which are often freely available in electronic form, provide a cheap and accessible means of analyzing patterns of soil residence time and quantifying landscape dynamics. Here we use a soil chronosequence to calibrate a chronofunction describing the reddening of soils in the Oregon Coast Range, which is then used to quantify the spatial distribution of soil residence time. In contrast to the popular conception that the Oregon Coast Range experiences uniform erosion, we observe systematic variations in soil residence time driven by stream capture, deep-seated landsliding, and lateral channel migration. Large, contiguous areas with short residence time soils (hue 10YR) occur west of the Siuslaw River–Long Tom Creek drainage divide, whereas soil patches with redder hues of 7.5YR or 5YR indicate longer residence times and transient landscape conditions. These zones of red soils (5YR) occur east of the Siuslaw–Long Tom divide, coinciding with low-gradient ridge and valley topography and deeply alluviated valleys resulting from drainage reversal in the Quaternary. Patches of red soils are also associated with deep-seated landslides at various locations in our study area. Our calculated soil residence times appear subject to overestimation resulting from limitations of the simple weathering index used here and chronofunction calibration uncertainties. Nonetheless, our soil residence time estimates appear accurate to within an order of magnitude and provide a useful constraint on landscape dynamics over geomorphic timescales.