Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Advisor

Papanicolaou, Athanasios N.

Second Advisor

Eichinger, William E.

First Committee Member

Bradley, Allen

Second Committee Member

Bennett, David

Third Committee Member

Bettis, Art

Fourth Committee Member

Sander, Heather


The primary objective of this research was to develop a landscape-oriented, process-based approach that can enhance understanding and prediction of SOC fluxes in IMLs by incorporating the key mechanisms impacting soil carbon dynamics when moving from the soilscape to the landscape. The mechanisms that are considered to be the focus of this study are redistribution of SOC due to erosion and deposition without neglecting the importance of litter incorporation into the soil column, decomposition due to microbial activity, and physical and chemical stabilization of carbon. To accomplish this objective, field experiments were performed to examine how selective entrainment of different soil size fractions, quantified through the enrichment ratio (ER), varies with management and hillslope position. Differential modes in soil mobilization between rill and interrill areas were either elevated or dampened depending on the prevalent management practice, the gradient of the site and landscape position. Sites where sediment and runoff fluxes were highest were found to have lower ER values (around unity) due to the mobilization of all size classes making static and dynamic samples almost identical.

The size fractions analyzed in these experiments were found to have varying levels of carbon associated with them, especially the larger aggregates, which encapsulate organic material. Neglecting them in transport estimates could lead to large errors in predicted fluxes of SOC. For this reason, a careful attention was placed on identifying how aggregate stability varies with respect to management and hillslope position, through controlled experiments looking size distributions to reflect tillage disturbance and aggregate stability to assess resistance to rainsplash.

Lastly, a landscape-oriented modeling framework was developed that captures not only the SOC spatial heterogeneity in IMLs but also determines the impacts that redistribution has on this heterogeneity and ultimately on SOC dynamics. The integrative modeling framework considers the collective effects of both rainsplash/rainfall- and tillage-induced erosion on SOC redistribution in IMLs through an ER-module developed and woven within this framework to connect an upland erosion model with a soil biogeochemical model. It provides not only size fraction updates to the active layer and ER values, but also explicitly considers the effects of splash-driven interrill erosion on those ER estimates.

The model was applied to twentieth-century changes in SOC across a representative agricultural hillslope in the study watershed and compared to recent SOC data. The chronosequence in SOC storage within the erosional zone revealed that soils were continually depleted of the rich organic matter long after the 1930’s “Dust bowl” due to enhanced erosion that accompanied agricultural practices. However, conservation tillage and enhanced crop production that began in the late 1980’s reversed the downward trend in SOC losses, causing nearly 26% of the lost SOC to be regained. Results from this study can be used to aid policy and decision makers in developing a food-system that accounts for the co-evolution of human and natural activity, to develop sustainable agro-ecosystems through the use of data supported recommended best management practices.


Deposition, Enrichment Ratio, Soil aggregates, Soil Erosion, Soil Organic Carbon


xv, 160 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 144-160).


Copyright © 2016 Kenneth Michael Wacha

Available for download on Wednesday, July 03, 2019