137 Cs tracing dynamics of soil erosion, organic carbon, and total nitrogen in terraced fields and forestland in the Middle Mountains of Nepal


Abstract The Middle Mountains is one of the regions of Nepal most vulnerable to water erosion, where fragile geology, steep topography, anomalous climatic conditions, and intensive human activity have resulted in serious soil erosion and enhanced land degradation. Based on the 137Cs tracing method, spatial variations in soil erosion, organic carbon, and total nitrogen (TN) in terraced fields lacking field banks and forestland were determined. Soil samples were collected at approximately 5 m and 20 m intervals along terraced field series and forestland transects respectively. Mean 137Cs inventories of the four soil cores from the reference site was estimated at 574.33 ± 126.22 Bq m-2 (1 Bq (i.e., one Becquerel) is equal to 1 disintegration per second (1 dps)). For each terrace, the 137Cs inventory generally increased from upper to lower slope positions, accompanied by a decrease in the soil erosion rate. Along the entire terraced toposequence, 137Cs data showed that abrupt changes in soil erosion rates could occur between the lower part of the upper terrace and the upper part of the immediate terrace within a small distance. This result indicated that tillage erosion is also a dominant erosion type in the sloping farmland of this area. At the same time, we observed a fluctuant decrease in soil erosion rates for the whole terraced toposequence as well as a net deposition at the toe terrace. Although steep terraces (lacking banks and hedgerows) to some extent could act to limit soil sediment accumulation in catchments, soil erosion in the terraced field was determined to be serious. For forestland, with the exception of serious soil erosion that had taken place at the top of slopes due to concentrated flows from a country road situated above the forestland site, spatial variation in soil erosion was similar to the “standard” water erosion model. Soil organic carbon (SOC) and TN inventories showed similar spatial patterns to the 137Cs inventory for both toposequences investigated. However, due to the different dominant erosion processes between the two, we found similar patterns between the

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