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Improving soil erosion assessment in Swiss mountainous areas using radionuclides (137Cs, 239+240Pu)

Applicant Alewell Christine
Number 146018
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Umweltgeowissenschaften Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Pedology
Start/End 01.10.2013 - 30.09.2017
Approved amount 281'596.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Pedology
Geomorphology

Keywords (6)

soil erosion; fallout radionuclides; radiogenic isotopes; 239+240Plutonium; 137Caesium; alpine grasslands

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Bodenerosion hat in alpinen Grasländern, verursacht durch Landnutzungs- und Klimawandel, in den letzten Jahrzehnten deutlich zugenommen. Aufgrund der extremen Topographie, des harschen Klimas und der kleinräumigen Heterogenität ist es bisher aber nicht gelungen, effiziente Methoden für eine zuverlässige Bestimmung der Erosionsraten zu entwickeln. Ohne diese ist eine geeignete Bewirtschaftung sowie ein sinnvoller Schutz der alpinen Grasländern nicht möglich.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

Mit einer kombinierten Auswertung der radiogenen Tracer 137Cs und 239+240Pu wollen wir eine geeignete Methode entwickeln und gelichzeitig zuverlässige Raten der Bodenerosion in alpinen Grasländern erfassen. Hierzu werden wir zum einen Flächen, die wir 2007 hinsichtlich des 137Cs Inventars untersucht haben, erneut beproben, um zu bestimmen, ob wir gestörte (Veränderung des Inventars) oder ungestörte (keine Veränderung des Inventars) Flächen vorfinden. Gleichzeitig wird diese sogenannte „Re-Sampling“- Methode genutzt werden, um Erosionsraten der letzten 6 Jahre zu bestimmen. Zusätzlich werden wir an den Standorten 239+240Pu Inventare erheben. Dieser Tracer wurde hauptsächlich in den 50iger und 60iger Jahren weltweit ubiquitär als Nebenwirkung von Atombombentests deponiert. Erste Voruntersuchungen haben gezeigt, dass die Deposition des Plutoniums wesentlich homogener ist und es daher als Tracer für die Bodenerosion besser geeignet scheint als das sehr heterogen verteilte 137Cs. Über die Anwendung des Plutoniums können wir langfristige Erosionsraten der letzten 50-60 Jahre ermitteln.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext des Forschungsprojekts

Mit den vorgeschlagenen Methoden können wir die bisherigen Limitierungen der Bestimmung von Bodenerosionsraten in alpinen Grasländern überwinden. Damit wird es erstmals möglich sein, zuverlässige Angaben zur Bodenerosion in alpinen Grasländern zu machen. Eine effiziente Methode um zuverlässige Bodenerosionsraten abzuschätzen, wird nicht nur für die Bewirtschaftung von alpinen Grasländern entscheidend sein, sondern auch für die Validierung bestehender Erosionsmodelle (Regionalisierung) und die Definition von Grenzwerten im Bodenschutz.

 

Keywords:

Bodenerosion, Alpine Grasländer, radiogene Isotope, atmosphärische Radionuklide, 137Cäsium, 239+240Plutonium

soil erosion, alpine grasslands, radiogenic isotopes, fallout radionuclides, 137Caesium, 239+240Plutonium

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 05.08.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
239+240 Pu from “contaminant” to soil erosion tracer: Where do we stand?
Alewell C., Pitois A., Meusburger K., Ketterer M., Mabit L. (2017), 239+240 Pu from “contaminant” to soil erosion tracer: Where do we stand?, in Earth-Science Reviews, 172, 107-123.
Decision support for the selection of reference sites using <sup>137</sup>Cs as a soil erosion tracer
Arata Laura, Meusburger Katrin, Bürge Alexandra, Zehringer Markus, Ketterer Michael E., Mabit Lionel, Alewell Christine (2017), Decision support for the selection of reference sites using <sup>137</sup>Cs as a soil erosion tracer, in SOIL, 3(3), 113-122.
Modelling Deposition and Erosion rates with RadioNuclides (MODERN) - Part 1: A new conversion model to derive soil redistribution rates from inventories of fallout radionuclides
Arata Laura, Meusburger Katrin, Frenkel Elena, A'Campo-Neuen Annette, Iurian Andra-Rada, Ketterer Michael E., Mabit Lionel, Alewell Christine (2016), Modelling Deposition and Erosion rates with RadioNuclides (MODERN) - Part 1: A new conversion model to derive soil redistribution rates from inventories of fallout radionuclides, in JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL RADIOACTIVITY, 162, 45-55.
Modelling Deposition and Erosion rates with RadioNuclides (MODERN) - Part 2: A comparison of different models to convert Pu239+240 inventories into soil redistribution rates at unploughed sites
Arata Laura, Alewell Christine, Frenkel Elena, A'Campo-Neuen Annette, Iurian Andra-Rada, Ketterer Michael E., Mabit Lionel, Meusburger Katrin (2016), Modelling Deposition and Erosion rates with RadioNuclides (MODERN) - Part 2: A comparison of different models to convert Pu239+240 inventories into soil redistribution rates at unploughed sites, in JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL RADIOACTIVITY, 162, 97-106.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Dr. Benno Bucher, Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate ENSI Radiation Measurement Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Prof. Dr. Michael Ketterer, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Northern Arizona University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Prof. DR. Luis Barbero González, Campus de Excelencia Internacional CEI·MAR Facultad de Ciencias de Spain (Europe)
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
EGU General Assembly Poster The new conversion model MODERN to derive erosion rates from inventories of fallout radionuclides 27.04.2016 Vienna, Austria Alewell Christine; Mabit Lionel; Arata Laura;
EGU General Assembly Poster A first attempt to derive soil erosion rates from 137Cs airborne gamma measurements in two Alpine valleys 27.04.2016 Vienna, Austria Arata Laura; Mabit Lionel; Alewell Christine;
EGU General Assembly Poster Short term soil erosion dynamics in alpine grasslands – Results from a Fallout Radionuclide repeated-sampling approach 17.04.2016 Vienna, Austria Alewell Christine; Mabit Lionel; Arata Laura;
Swiss Geoscience Meeting Talk given at a conference Improving soil erosion assessment in Swiss mountainous areas using Fallout Radionuclides (137Cs, 239+240Pu). 20.11.2015 Basel, Switzerland Alewell Christine; Arata Laura;
International Conference on Environmental Radioactivity (Envira) Talk given at a conference . The 137Cs repeated sampling approach to derive soil redistribution rates and validate reference sites in alpine grasslands 21.09.2015 Thessaloniki, Greece Arata Laura; Alewell Christine; Mabit Lionel;
BGS Jahrestagung Poster Application of 239+240Pu to assess soil erosion in alpine grasslands: a model comparison 05.02.2015 Basel, Switzerland Mabit Lionel; Alewell Christine; Arata Laura;
EGU General Assembly Poster 137Cs re-sampling as a method for soil erosion assessment in Alpine grasslands 27.04.2014 Vienna, Austria Mabit Lionel; Alewell Christine; Arata Laura;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media 239+240Pu to 137Cs activity ratio: a proxy for comparing vertical and lateral radionuclide mobility IAEA-Soils Newsletter International 2017
Media relations: print media, online media Unique Conversion Model for Assessing Soil Redistribution Magnitudes from Fallout Radionuclides Inve IAEA-Soils Newsletter International 2017
Media relations: print media, online media How to perform precise soil and sediment sampling? One solution: The Fine Increment Soil Collector ( IAEA-TECDOC-1783 International 2016
Media relations: print media, online media Latest development in using CSSI - Carbon-13 natural abundance signatures of long-chain fatty acids IAEA-Soils Newsletter International 2016
Media relations: print media, online media Sediment Origin Determination in the Sub-Catchment of Mistelbach (Austria) using Fatty Acids Biomark IAEA-Soils Newsletter International 2016
Media relations: print media, online media Is 239+240Pu the new tracer for soil erosion assessment in mountain grasslands? IAEA-Soils Newsletter International 2015
Media relations: print media, online media Is Snow Gliding a Major Soil Erosion Agent in Steep Alpine Areas? IAEA-Soils Newsletter International 2015

Use-inspired outputs

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
167333 weObserve: Integrating Citizen Observers and High Throughput Sensing Devices for Big Data Collection, Integration, and Analysis 01.05.2017 NRP 75 Big Data
169556 Combining biogeochemical and modelling approach to assess peatland restoration 01.06.2017 Project funding (Div. I-III)
113331 Soil degradation and nutrient export in the upper alpine level of the Reuss watershed 01.12.2006 Project funding (Div. I-III)
155889 Stable carbon isotopes in soils as indicators of environmental change 01.04.2015 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The combined pressure of land use and climate change has resulted in accelerated soil erosion rates in Alpine grasslands. To efficiently mitigate and control soil losses by erosion and reduce their environmental impacts in Alpine grasslands, reliable and validated methods for comprehensive data generation on the magnitude and spatial extent of soil erosion are needed. Sheet erosion, which is one of the main forms of erosion affecting Swiss Alpine grasslands, is particularly difficult to investigate with conventional methods. While the use of the fallout radionuclide 137Cs has been successfully used to determine sheet erosion rates in lowland arable areas, the method was found to produce relatively large uncertainties in Alpine grasslands. The latter difficulties were most likely caused by a combination of (i) the general heterogeneous distribution of atmospheric 137Cs Chernobyl fallout, (ii) the partly snow covered ground in Alpine areas during the fallout event in April 1986, which results in inhomogeneous 137Cs distribution during snow melt and (iii) uncertainties in finding undisturbed references sites in the geomorphological and anthropogenic highly active slopes of the Swiss central Alps. We will implement an innovative combined use of radionuclide soil tracers (the 137Cs re-sampling approach and 239+240Pu based erosion rates) in the alpine valleys of Ursern (Canton Uri, northern central Alps) and Piora (Canton Ticino, southern central Alps) to overcome these difficulties. We will replace the classical 137Cs approach, where an undisturbed reference site is compared to erosional sites, with a re-sampling approach, where previous measurements from 2007 will be compared to 2013 sampling, thus using temporal instead of spatial reference. Using 239+240Pu which originates from nuclear bomb testing during the 1950’s and 1960’s as an erosional tracer is an approach only recently suggested to the soil science community. With the proposed concepts of combining 239+240Pu based erosion rates (averaging over the last 50 - 60 years, more homogeneous fallout distribution) with the 137Cs re-sampling approach (which allows short term erosion assessment integrating the last 6 years erosive events with no dependence on undisturbed reference sites) we are confident to overcome the above discussed limitation already encountered with the classical 137Cs approach in the Swiss Alps. Assessing soil erosion magnitude in Swiss mountainous areas through radionuclide methods is not only a first step towards an efficient resource management policy to target a successful implementation of agricultural soil conservation practices but also to validate existing soil erosion models which is in urgent need to up-scale and regionalize soil erosion rates in mountain areas.
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