The effect of accelerated soil erosion on hillslope morphology

Sara Bonetti, Daniel D. Richter, Amilcare Porporato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Intensive agricultural land use can have detrimental effects on landscape properties, greatly accelerating soil erosion, with consequent fertility loss and reduced agricultural potential. To quantify the effects of such erosional processes on hillslope morphology and gain insight into the underlying dynamics, we use a twofold approach. First, a statistical analysis of topographical features is conducted, with a focus on slope and gradient distributions. The accelerated soil erosion is shown to be fingerprinted in the distribution tails, which provide a clear statistical signature of this human-induced land modification. Theoretical solutions are then derived for the hillslope morphology and the associated creep and runoff erosion fluxes, allowing us to distinguish between the main erosional mechanisms operating in disturbed and undisturbed areas. We focus our application on the landscape at the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory in the US Southern Piedmont, where severe soil erosion followed intensive cotton cultivation, resulting in highly eroded and gullied hillslopes. The observed differences in hillslope morphologies in disturbed and undisturbed areas are shown to be related to the disruption of the natural balance between soil creep and runoff erosion. The relaxation time required for the disturbed hillslopes to reach a quasi-equilibrium condition is also investigated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3007-3019
Number of pages13
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • calhoun CZO
  • hillslope morphology
  • land degradation
  • soil erosion
  • topographic slope


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