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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (6): 937-949    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0106-6
Research article     
Freeze-thaw effects on erosion process in loess slope under simulated rainfall
SU Yuanyi1,2, LI Peng1,2,*(), REN Zongping1,2, XIAO Lie1,2, ZHANG Hui3
1State Key Laboratory of Eco-hydraulics in Northwest Arid Region of China, Xi'an University of Technology, Xi'an 710048, China
2Key Laboratory of National Forestry Administration on Ecological Hydrology and Disaster Prevention in Arid Regions, Xi'an 710048, China
3China JIKAN Research Institute of Engineering Investigations and Design Co. Ltd., Xi'an 710048, China
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Seasonal freeze-thaw processes have led to severe soil erosion in the middle and high latitudes. The area affected by freeze-thaw erosion in China exceeds 13% of the national territory. So understanding the effect of freeze-thaw on erosion process is of great significance for soil and water conservation as well as for ecological engineering. In this study, we designed simulated rainfall experiments to investigate soil erosion processes under two soil conditions, unfrozen slope (UFS) and frozen slope (FS), and three rainfall intensities of 0.6, 0.9 and 1.2 mm/min. The results showed that the initial runoff time of FS occurred much earlier than that of the UFS. Under the same rainfall intensity, the runoff of FS is 1.17-1.26 times that of UFS; and the sediment yield of FS is 6.48-10.49 times that of UFS. With increasing rainfall time, rills were produced on the slope. After the appearance of the rills, the sediment yield on the FS accounts for 74%-86% of the total sediment yield. Rill erosion was the main reason for the increase in soil erosion rate on FS, and the reduction in water percolation resulting from frozen layers was one of the important factors leading to the advancement of rills on slope. A linear relationship existed between the cumulative runoff and the sediment yield of UFS and FS (R2>0.97, P<0.01). The average mean weight diameter (MWD) on the slope erosion particles was as follows: UFS0.9 (73.84 μm)>FS0.6 (72.30 μm)>UFS1.2 (72.23 μm)>substrate (71.23 μm)>FS1.2 (71.06 μm)>FS0.9 (70.72 μm). During the early stage of the rainfall, the MWD of the FS was relatively large. However, during the middle to late rainfall, the particle composition gradually approached that of the soil substrate. Under different rainfall intensities, the mean soil erodibility (MK) of the FS was 7.22 times that of the UFS. The ratio of the mean regression coefficient C2 (MC2) between FS and UFS was roughly correspondent with MK. Therefore, the parameter C2 can be used to evaluate soil erodibility after the appearance of the rills. This article explored the influence mechanism of freeze-thaw effects on loess soil erosion and provided a theoretical basis for further studies on soil erosion in the loess hilly regions.

Key wordsunfrozen slope (UFS)      frozen slope (FS)      simulated rainfall      soil size selectivity      soil erodibility      loess hilly region     
Received: 21 March 2020      Published: 10 November 2020
Corresponding Authors: Peng LI     E-mail:
About author: *LI Peng (E-mail:
Cite this article:

SU Yuanyi, LI Peng, REN Zongping, XIAO Lie, ZHANG Hui. Freeze-thaw effects on erosion process in loess slope under simulated rainfall. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(6): 937-949.

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Fig. 1 Experimental device diagrams of test equipment real diagram (a) and schematic diagram of the simulated rainfall system (b)
Treatment Initial runoff time (min) Time of rill appearance (min) Average value
Runoff rate (mm/min) Sediment yield rate during the Ⅰ-stage (g/min) Sediment yield rate during the Ⅱ-stage (g/min)
UFS0.9 24.2 42 532.30 13.97 62.67
UFS1.2 9.0 33 878.62 19.67 121.46
FS0.6 10.1 27 233.45a 38.08a 125.72a
FS0.9 5.5 21 620.28b 134.24b 382.24b
FS1.2 2.6 12 1104.61c 139.65b 523.00c
Table 1 Slope runoff, sediment yield and its main moments
Fig. 2 Topography of the unfrozen slope (UFS; a) and frozen slope (FS; b) under 1.2 mm/min rainfall intensity
Fig. 3 Temporal variations in runoff rate (a) and sediment yield rate (b) under different rainfall intensities. The numbers, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.2, after UFS and FS represent the rainfall intensities (mm/min).
Treatment Ⅰ-stage MC1 Ⅱ-stage MC2
UFS0.9 y=0.033x-3.052 (R2=0.9975**) 0.027 y=0.049x-37.537 (R2=0.9986**) 0.066
UFS1.2 y=0.021x+11.128 (R2=0.9823**) y=0.083x-174.74 (R2=0.9786**)
FS0.6 y=0.269x+23.462 (R2=0.9865**) 0.247 y=0.424x-142.10 (R2=0.9968**) 0.487
FS0.9 y=0.297x-3.618 (R2=0.9976**) y=0.575x-469.78 (R2=0.9981**)
FS1.2 y=0.176x+67.248 (R2=0.9861**) y=0.463x-704.45 (R2=0.9972**)
Table 2 Cumulative runoff and cumulative sediment yield fitted equation under different erosion stages
Fig. 4 Temporal variations of the mean weight diameter (MWD) of particles (a) and the MWD (b). Different lowercase letters represent significant difference between different rainfall intensities at 0.05 level.
Fig. 5 Temporal variations of eroded sediment particle contents under different soil treatments
Treatment Clay Fine silt Coarse silt Fine sand
I-stage Ⅱ-stage I-stage Ⅱ-stage I-stage Ⅱ-stage I-stage Ⅱ-stage
UFS0.9 0.030 0.025 16.753 15.162 44.733 47.237 37.615 36.945
UFS1.2 0.037 0.033 19.113 16.410 43.639 47.176 37.303 35.439
FS0.6 0.045 0.072 16.272 17.375 45.065 46.465 38.395 35.990
FS0.9 0.057 0.163 17.299 21.176 46.507 45.611 36.857 33.473
FS1.2 0.027 0.110 12.960 19.543 45.340 45.160 40.569 34.512
Table 3 Average percentage (%) of the effective particle size of sediment under different treatments
Treatment A (kg/m2) MA (kg/m2) R (MJ·mm/(m2·h)) LS K (kg·h/(MJ·mm)) MK (kg·h/(MJ·mm))
UFS0.9 1.16 1.955 0.13 1.16 5.07 8.03
UFS1.2 2.75 0.14 1.16 10.99
FS0.6 3.45 11.150 0.07 1.16 27.15 58.00
FS0.9 12.15 0.10 1.16 68.22
FS1.2 17.85 0.13 1.16 78.64
Table 4 Soil erodibility factor (K) calculated from the rainfall simulation experiments for the UFS and FS
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