Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Research article
08 Sep 2014
Research article |  | 08 Sep 2014

Evaluating the importance of surface soil contributions to reservoir sediment in alpine environments: a combined modelling and fingerprinting approach in the Posets-Maladeta Natural Park

L. Palazón, L. Gaspar, B. Latorre, W. H. Blake, and A. Navas

Abstract. Soil in alpine environments plays a key role in the development of ecosystem services and in order to maintain and preserve this important resource, information is required on processes that lead to soil erosion. Similar to other mountain alpine environments, the Benasque catchment is characterised by temperatures below freezing that can last from November to April, intense rainfall events, typically in spring and autumn, and rugged topography which makes assessment of erosion challenging. Indirect approaches to soil erosion assessment, such as combined model approaches, offer an opportunity to evaluate soil erosion in such areas. In this study (i) the SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool) hydrological and erosion model and (ii) sediment fingerprinting procedures were used in parallel to assess the viability of a combined modelling and tracing approach to evaluate soil erosion processes in the area of the Posets-Maladeta Natural Park (central Spanish Pyrenees). Soil erosion rates and sediment contribution of potential sediment sources defined by soil type (Kastanozems/Phaeozems; Fluvisols and Cambisols) were assessed. The SWAT model suggested that, with the highest specific sediment yields, Cambisols are the main source of sediment in the Benasque catchment and Phaeozems and Fluvisols were identified as the lowest sediment contributors. Spring and winter model runs gave the highest and lowest specific sediment yield, respectively. In contrast, sediment fingerprinting analysis identified Fluvisols, which dominate the riparian zone, as the main sediment source at the time of sampling. This indicates the importance of connectivity as well as potential differences in the source dynamic of material in storage versus that transported efficiently from the system at times of high flow. The combined approach enabled us to better understand soil erosion processes in the Benasque alpine catchment, wherein SWAT identified areas of potential high sediment yield in large flood events but sediment fingerprinting identified areas that, due to high connectivity, contribute more to channel-stored sediment deposits.