The hydrologic response of upland watersheds is strongly controlled by soil (regolith) thickness. Despite the need to quantify soil thickness for input into hydrologic models, there is currently no widely used, geomorphically based method for doing so. In this paper we describe and illustrate a new method for predictive mapping of soil thicknesses using high-resolution topographic data, numerical modeling, and field-based calibration. The model framework works directly with input digital elevation model data to predict soil thicknesses assuming a long-term balance between soil production and erosion. Erosion rates in the model are quantified using one of three geomorphically based sediment transport models: nonlinear slope-dependent transport, nonlinear area- and slope-dependent transport, and nonlinear depth- and slope-dependent transport. The model balances soil production and erosion locally to predict a family of solutions corresponding to a range of values of two unconstrained model parameters. A small number of field-based soil thickness measurements can then be used to calibrate the local value of those unconstrained parameters, thereby constraining which solution is applicable at a particular study site. As an illustration, the model is used to predictively map soil thicknesses in two small, ∼0.1 km2, drainage basins in the Marshall Gulch watershed, a semiarid drainage basin in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Pima County, Arizona. Field observations and calibration data indicate that the nonlinear depth- and slope-dependent sediment transport model is the most appropriate transport model for this site. The resulting framework provides a generally applicable, geomorphically based tool for predictive mapping of soil thickness using high-resolution topographic data sets.
Pelletier J.D. and Rasmussen C. (2009): Geomorphically based predictive mapping of soil thickness in upland watersheds. Water Resources Research 45: W09417. DOI: 10.1029/2008WR007319