The impact of soil development, rainfall intensity and vegetation complexity on subsurface flow paths along a glacial chronosequence of 10 millennia
Abstract. Hydrologic processes play an important role in the hydro-pedo-geomorphological feedback cycle of landscape evolution. Soil properties and subsurface flow paths change over time, but due to lack of observations important hydrologic processes such as water flow paths are often not properly considered in soil and landscape evolution studies. We investigated the evolution of subsurface flow paths during landscape development in the calcareous glacier forefield at the Griessfirn in the Swiss Alps. While the main focus was on flow path evolution and the formation of preferential flow paths with soil development, we also looked at the impact of irrigation intensity and vegetation complexity (in what way does the vegetation complexity defined by degree of vegetation cover and functional diversity at each age class relate to subsurface structures and flow path initialization?). We chose four glacial moraines of different ages (110, 160, 4 900, and 13 500 years) and conducted dye tracer experiments with Brilliant Blue (4 g l−1) on three plots at each moraine. The three plots at each age class differed by their degree of vegetation complexity (low, medium, and high) and each was further divided into three equal subplots where dyed water was applied with three different irrigation intensities (20, 40, and 60 mm h−1) and an irrigation amount of 40 mm. Dye pattern characteristics in form of volume density and surface area density were derived by digital image analysis and compared via statistical analysis.Volume density was used to classify the observed dye patterns into specific flow type categories. The effect of soil formation and thus changing soil characteristics on flow types were investigated by the analysis of structural and textural parameters in form of grain size distribution, porosity, bulk density, and loss on ignition. A change in flow types with increasing moraine age was observed from a rather homogeneous matrix flow to heterogeneous matrix and finger flow. Along the soil chronosequence, a reduction in particle sizes and an ongoing vegetation development resulted in an accumulation of organic matter in the topsoil and an increase in water storage capacity (decrease in bulk density and increase in porosity). Differences in irrigation intensity only had an effect on flow types at the oldest moraine, where the frequency of finger flow decreased with increasing irrigation intensity. A relation between vegetation complexity and flow types was only observed at the older moraines, which had a dense vegetation cover. With increasing vegetation complexity the proportion of preferential flow paths in form of finger flow also increased.
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