2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:35 PM


REYNOLDS, Richard1, NEFF, Jason2, URBAN, Frank3, GOLDSTEIN, Harland4, FERNANDEZ, Daniel2, REHEIS, Marith5 and BELNAP, Jayne6, (1)U.S. Geological Survey, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, (2)Dept of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, (3)U.S. Geological Survey, Box 25046 Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, (4)US Geol Survey, PO Box 25046, Denver, CO 80225-0046, (5)U.S. Geol Survey, Box 25046, MS 980, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, (6)United States Geological Survey, 2290 S. Resource Blvd, Moab, UT 84532, rreynolds@usgs.gov

Grasslands cover large areas of upland surfaces in the Canyonlands region of the Colorado Plateau. In shallow (0-10 cm) grassland soils, many rock-derived soil nutrients vary systematically in concentration (by as much as 3x) over short distances (10s to 100s m) within widespread deposits of mixed alluvium and sand sheet.

Most of the sediment is derived from local bedrock sources, as indicated by geomorphic patterns (spatial relations between sediments and bedrock), as well as comparable mineralogic and textural properties. Nevertheless, some of the silt in these dominantly sandy deposits is from far-traveled dust, as revealed by mineralogic and chemical properties that cannot be attributed to nearby bedrock. Nutrient additions from dust are relatively more vital in settings underlain by nutrient-poor eolian sandstone (e.g., Navajo and Cedar Mesa sandstones) than by fluvial sandstone (arkose) and lacustrine mudstones (e.g., Cutler Group redbeds and Chinle Formation), which contain higher amounts of potential nutrients. On gentle slopes (even less than 5 degrees), important controls on the abundance of nutrient-rich silt include depletion by eolian winnowing especially in upslope areas and down-slope accumulation by slope-wash processes.

Grazing has disturbed nutrient status as revealed by comparison among never-grazed, previously grazed, and currently grazed soils. Grassland areas grazed until about 35 years ago exhibit lower nutrient and dust contents than never-grazed areas on similar nutrient-poor sandstone. These differences reflect past disturbance of soils and consequent soil erosion. In addition, there may have been insufficient time or incapacity of these lands to re-stabilize and thereby regain nutrients through dust inputs. Observations since 1998 document continued wind erosion at a previously grazed site especially during drought, whereas a nearby never-grazed site remained stable. Our studies show that recovery of the previously grazed area has been retarded by failure to regenerate adequate abundance and type of vegetation and biologic soil crust.