The eastern part of the Russian Plain is an important agricultural region of European Russia with high proportion of cultivated lands in the steppe, forest-steppe and forest (southern part) landscape zones. Soil erosion is the main process of land degradation and surface water contamination there. Climate and land cover changes have been observed in this region during the last 30 years. However, field quantitative assessments of soil erosion rates are not available for the eastern part of European Russia due to the lack of monitoring data as well as the evaluation of erosion/deposition processes in cultivated catchments using other field methods. Three representative small cultivated catchments with high (> 80%) proportion of cultivated lands were selected in the forest (southern part), forest-steppe and steppe zones of the study region to evaluate sedimentation rates in dry valley bottoms of the catchments for two-time intervals (1963-1986 and 1987-2016) based on the application of the bomb-derived and Chernobyl-derived 137Cs isotope for sediment dating. The 3-4 depth 137Cs profiles were used to assess the sedimentation rates within the each investigated catchment. It was established that the sedimentation rates have considerably decreased (at least 2-3 times) over the last 30 years compared to 1963-1986 in all the investigated catchments. This is in agreement with results of erosion rate calculations using erosion models for the forest zone, however not consistent with erosion rates assessments for the forest-steppe and steppe zones. According to the model calculations, erosion rates show a slight decrease in the forest-steppe zone and increase in the steppe zone. The reduction in surface runoff during snowmelt period is one of the reasons for decrease in erosion rates within cultivated slopes for all the investigated catchments. The increase in proportion of perennial grasses in the regional crop rotation is another important reason for the decrease in erosion rates for the catchment located in the south of the forest zone. The importance of land cover changes in a major decrease of soil losses from the cultivated fields of the investigated catchments located in the forest-steppe and steppe zones cannot be identified due to the lack detailed information about crop rotation for those particular sites. However, available regional information about crop rotation changes for the two-time intervals (1960-1980 and 1996-2012) do not explain very high reduction in sedimentation rates in the dry valley bottoms after 1986.
Keywords: Caesium-137; Catchment; Climate change; Dry valley; European Russia; Land cover change; Runoff; Sediment; Soil erosion rates; Soil freezing.
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