Soil Atterberg limits of different weathering profiles of the collapsing gullies in the hilly granitic region of southern China
Abstract. Collapsing gullies are one of the most serious soil erosion problems in the tropical and subtropical areas of southern China. However, few studies have been performed on the relationship of soil Atterberg limits with soil profiles of the collapsing gullies. Soil Atterberg limits, which include plastic limit and liquid limit, have been proposed as indicators for soil vulnerability to degradation. Here, the soil Atterberg limits within different weathering profiles and their relationships with soil physicochemical properties were investigated by characterizing four collapsing gullies in four counties in the hilly granitic region of southern China. The results showed that with the fall of weathering degree, there was a sharp decrease in plastic limit, liquid limit, plasticity index, soil organic matter, cation exchange capacity and free iron oxide. Additionally, there was a gradual increase in liquidity index, a sharp increase in particle density and bulk density followed by a slight decline, a decrease in the finer soil particles, a noticeable decline in the clay contents, and a considerable increase in the gravel and sand contents. The plastic limit varied from 19.43 to 35.93 % in TC, 19.51 to 33.82 % in GX, 19.32 to 35.58 % in AX and 18.91 to 36.56 % in WH, while the liquid limit varied from 30.91 to 62.68 % in TC, 30.89 to 57.70 % in GX, 32.48 to 65.71 % in AX and 30.77 to 62.70 % in WH, respectively. The soil Atterberg limits in the sandy soil layers and detritus layers were lower than those in the surface layers and red soil layers, which results in higher vulnerability of the sandy soil layers and detritus layers to erosion and finally the formation of the collapsing gully. The regression analyses showed that soil Atterberg limits had significant and positive correlation with SOM, clay content, cationic exchange capacity and Fed, significant and negative correlation with sand content and no obvious correlation with other properties. The results of this study revealed that soil Atterberg limits are an informative indicator to reflect the weathering degree of different weathering profiles of the collapsing gullies in the hilly granitic region.