Strength matters: Resisting erosion across upland landscapes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Soil-covered upland landscapes comprise a critical part of the habitable world and our understanding of their evolution as a function of different climatic, tectonic, and geologic regimes is important across a wide range of disciplines. Soil production and transport play essential roles in controlling the spatial variation of soil depth and therefore hillslope hydrological processes, distribution of vegetation, and soil biological activity. Field-based confirmation of the hypothesized relationship between soil thickness and soil production is relatively recent, however, and here we quantify a direct, material strength-based influence on variable soil production across landscapes. We report clear empirical linkages between the shear strength of the parent material (its erodibility) and the overlying soil thickness. Specifically, we use a cone penetrometer and a shear vane to determine saprolite resistance to shear. We find that saprolite shear strength increases systematically with overlying soil thickness across three very different field sites where we previously quantified soil production rates. At these sites, soil production rates, determined from in situ produced beryllium-10 (10Be) and aluminum-26 (26Al), decrease with overlying soil thickness and we therefore infer that the efficiency of soil production must decrease with increasing parent material shear strength. We use our field-based data to help explain the linkages between biogenic processes, chemical weathering, hillslope hydrology, and the evolution of the Earth's surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1748-1754
Number of pages7
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • landscape evolution
  • saprolite
  • shear strength
  • soil depth
  • soil production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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