Tracing the temporal evolution of soil redistribution rates in an agricultural landscape using 239+240 Pu and 10 Be

Francesca Calitri, Michael Sommer, Kevin Norton, Arnaud Temme, Dagmar Brandová, Raquel Portes, Marcus Christl, Michael E Ketterer, Markus Egli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Two principal groups of processes shape mass fluxes from and into a soil: vertical profile development and lateral soil redistribution. Periods having predominantly progressive soil forming processes (soil profile development) alternate with periods having predominantly regressive processes (erosion). As a result, short-term soil redistribution – years to decades – can differ substantially from long-term soil redistribution; i.e. centuries to millennia. However, the quantification of these processes is difficult and consequently their rates are poorly understood. To assess the competing roles of erosion and deposition we determined short- and long-term soil redistribution rates in a formerly glaciated area of the Uckermark, northeast Germany. We compared short-term erosion or accumulation rates using plutonium-239 and -240 ( 239+240 Pu) and long-term rates using both in situ and meteoric cosmogenic beryllium-10 ( 10 Be). Three characteristic process domains have been analysed in detail: a flat landscape position having no erosion/deposition, an erosion-dominated mid-slope, and a deposition-dominated lower-slope site. We show that the short-term mass erosion and accumulation rates are about one order of magnitude higher than long-term redistribution rates. Both, in situ and meteoric 10 Be provide comparable results. Depth functions, and therefore not only an average value of the topsoil, give the most meaningful rates. The long-term soil redistribution rates were in the range of −2.1 t ha -1  yr -1 (erosion) and +0.26 t ha -1  yr -1 (accumulation) whereas the short-term erosion rates indicated strong erosion of up to 25 t ha -1  yr -1 and accumulation of 7.6 t ha -1  yr -1 . Our multi-isotope method identifies periods of erosion and deposition, confirming the ‘time-split approach’ of distinct different phases (progressive/regressive) in soil evolution. With such an approach, temporally-changing processes can be disentangled, which allows the identification of both the dimensions of and the increase in soil erosion due to human influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Be
  • Pu
  • agricultural soils
  • moraine landscape
  • soil erosion
  • temporal evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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