Increase in soil erosion after agricultural intensification: evidence from a lowland basin in France

Abstract : Changes in agricultural practices impact sediment transfer in catchments and rivers. Long term archives of sediment deposits in agricultural plains of northwestern Europe are rarely available, however, for reconstructing and quantifying erosion and sedimentation rates for the second half of the 20th century. In this context, a multi-parameter analysis was conducted on sedimentary deposits accumulated in a pond created in the 11th century and draining a 24 km2 cultivated catchment in western France. This catchment is representative of cultivated and drained lowland environments where agriculture has intensified during the last 60 years. High resolution seismic profiles and surface sediment samples (n = 74) were used to guide the collection of cores (n = 3) representative of the sequence of sediment accumulated in the pond. The cores were analysed to quantify and characterize the evolution of sediment dynamics in the pond. The first land consolidation period (1954-1960) was characterized by a dominance of allochtonous material input to the pond. This input represents an erosion of 1900 to 2300 t.km−2.yr−1 originating from the catchment. Then, between 1970-1990, the terrigenous input decreased progressively and tended to stabilize. Eutrophication and associated primary production increased in the pond. These processes generated the majority of material accumulated in the pond during this period. Further land consolidation programs conducted in 1992 generated a new increase in soil erosion and sediment input to the reservoir. For the last 10 years, terrigenous input to the pond corresponds to a catchment-wide erosion rate between 90 and 102 t.km−2.yr−1. While a strong decrease is observed, it still represents a 60-fold increase of the sediment flux compared to the pre-intensification period. These large temporal variations of sedimentation rates over a few decades underline the dynamics of sediment transfer and raise questions about the sustainability of soil resources in lowland temperate environments.
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Anthony Foucher, Sébastien Salvador-Blanes, Olivier Evrard, Anaëlle Simonneau, Emmanuel Chapron, et al.. Increase in soil erosion after agricultural intensification: evidence from a lowland basin in France. Anthropocene, Elsevier, 2014, 7, pp.30-41. ⟨10.1016/j.ancene.2015.02.001⟩. ⟨insu-01118118⟩

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