Soil surface connectivity of tilled soil with wheel tracks and its development under simulated rainfall
Although wheel tracks cover only a small portion of the surface of agricultural fields, their effect on surface runoff and sediment transport is substantial. Wheel tracks change the microrelief of the soil surface, and influence how the surface is further altered by rainfall and runoff. This study presents a plot-scale microrelief analysis of a tilled surface with wheel tracks under simulated rainfall. Digital elevation models of the microrelief with 1 cm spatial resolution were obtained using the Structure from Motion method. The random roughness, the structural connectivity, and functional connectivity were calculated for before-rainfall and after-rainfall soil surface conditions. The experiments were carried out on inclined, freshly-tilled plots (8 m long, 2 m wide). The wheel tracks were created by four passages of machinery in the slope direction (SWT) and in the contour-line direction (CWT). The experiments were compared to reference plots without wheel tracks (NWT). The wheel tracks increase water and sediment connectivity if they are oriented in slope-wise direction. Microrelief analysis shows that SWT drains water from the surrounding soil. The soil surface adjacent to SWT can also become more connected with the wheel track, due to changes in microrelief introduced by rainfall and runoff. The calculated higher connectivity in the SWT plot corresponded to the measured increased sediment loads. This suggests faster overland flow and therefore shorter flow pathways on the soil surface microrelief. CWT leads to a decrease in the water and sediment connectivity compared to the NWT and SWT plots. Although the surface runoff can overflow the CWT, the network of flow paths results in decreased flow velocity and a slower sediment transport rate. However, the CWT effect is not permanent, and declines as the wheel tracks become silted with the deposited sediment. It is shown that detailed microrelief data provide relevant information for a study of the changes in flow routing in a tilled agricultural field with the presence of a wheel track. SWT accelerates the runoff and especially the sediment transport. During a rainfall event, the hydraulic connection between the wheel track and the surrounding soil increases dramatically. CWT reduces the surface runoff and also the sediment transport. In the long term, rainfall events and surface runoff alter the microrelief connectivity, causing the soil surface to be more hydraulically connected, irrespective of the wheel track orientation. This study demonstrates the effect of wheel tracks on water and sediment transport. The results draw attention to the importance of appropriate soil protection measures, as a bare unprotected surface microrelief exposed to rainfall leads to increased sediment connectivity.
Read the full paper here.