Soil surface roughness: Comparing old and new measuring methods and application in a soil erosion model

Thomsen, L.M.; Baartman, J.E.M.; Barneveld, R.J.; Starkloff, T.; Stolte, J.


Quantification of soil roughness, i.e. the irregularities of the soil surface due to soil texture, aggregates, rock fragments and land management, is important as it affects surface storage, infiltration, overland flow, and ultimately sediment detachment and erosion. Roughness has been measured in the field using both contact methods (such as roller chain and pinboard) and sensor methods (such as stereophotogrammetry and terrestrial laser scanning (TLS)). A novel depth-sensing technique, originating in the gaming industry, has recently become available for earth sciences: the Xtion Pro method. Roughness data obtained using various methods are assumed to be similar; this assumption is tested in this study by comparing five different methods to measure roughness in the field on 1 m2 agricultural plots with different management (ploughing, harrowing, forest and direct seeding on stubble) in southern Norway. Subsequently, the values were used as input for the LISEM soil erosion model to test their effect on the simulated hydrograph at catchment scale. Results show that statistically significant differences between the methods were obtained only for the fields with direct seeding on stubble; for the other land management types the methods were in agreement. The spatial resolution of the contact methods was much lower than for the sensor methods (10 000 versus at least 57 000 points per square metre). In terms of costs and ease of use in the field, the Xtion Pro method is promising. Results from the LISEM model indicate that especially the roller chain overestimated the random roughness (RR) values and the model subsequently calculated less surface runoff than measured. In conclusion, the choice of measurement method for roughness data matters and depends on the required accuracy, resolution, mobility in the field and available budget. It is recommended to use only one method within one study.