Effects of gravel-sand mulch on the runoff, erosion, and nutrient losses in the Loess Plateau of north-western China under simulated rainfall

https://doi.org/10.17221/141/2019-SWRCitation:

Qiu Y., Wang X., Xie Z., Wang Y. (2021): Effects of gravel-sand mulch on the runoff, erosion, and nutrient losses in the Loess Plateau of north-western China under simulated rainfall. Soil & Water Res., 16: 22−28.

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Gravel mulching is a characteristic agricultural technique that has been used for hundreds of years in the north-western Loess Plateau of China. However, the effects of the gravel-sand mulch on the processes of the runoff, soil erosion, and nutrient losses are neither fully distinguished nor even known in many parts of the world. This study investigated how different gravel particle sizes in the mulch affected the runoff, erosion as well as the extent of the nutrient losses in the surface runoff. The laboratory experiments were conducted using a rainfall simulator with three gravel mulch treatments: (1) fine gravel mulch (FG); (2) medium gravel mulch (MG); (3) coarse gravel mulch (CG) and a control group, bare soil (BS). The results of these rainfall simulation experiments gave estimates on how the grain size influences the runoff and losses of the soil and its nutrients. Applying the gravel mulch significantly delayed the runoff’s starting time when compared with the bare soil. Both the total runoff and soil loss increased with the grain size of the gravel mulch. Compared with the bare soil, the lowest surface runoff and soil loss was observed from the fine gravel treatment. These results clearly show that gravel mulch plays an important role in the runoff and sediment generation processes, and that it significantly reduces the surface runoff and soil loss. The losses of the total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), and total organic carbon (TOC) from the bare soil were much higher than those under the gravel mulching. The fluctuations in these nutrient-loss processes were the most intense in the CG treatment, while the TC content, in initial runoff, was significantly higher in the FG than the other treatments. Our findings suggest gravel mulch is a useful water and soil conservation technique in the loess area of north-western China, and these results can inform one on the theoretical principles for properly utilising gravel-mulched fields.

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