Using landscape metrics to analyze micro-scale soil erosion processes
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Methods of recording soil erosion using photographs exist but they are not commonly considered in scientific studies. Digital images may hold an expressive amount of information that can be extracted quickly in different manners. The investigation of several metrics that were initially developed for landscape ecology analysis constitutes one method. In this study we applied a method of landscape metrics to quantify the spatial configuration of surface micro-topography and erosion-related features, in order to generate a possible complementary tool for environmental management. In a 3.7 m wide and 9.7 m long soil box used during a rainfall simulation study, digital images were systematically acquired in four instances: (a) when the soil was dry; (b) after a short duration rain for initial wetting; (c) after the first erosive rain; and (d) after the 2nd erosive rain. Thirteen locations were established in the box and digital photos were taken at these locations with the camera positioned at the same orthogonal distance from the soil surface under the same ambient light intensity. Digital photos were converted into bimodal images and seven landscape metrics were analyzed: percentage of land, number of patches, density of patches, largest patch index, edge density, shape index, and fractal dimension. Digital images were an appropriate tool because they can generate data very quickly. The landscape metrics were sensitive to changes in soil surface micro-morphology especially after the 1st erosive rain event, indicating significant erosional feature development between the initial wetting and first erosive rainfall. The method is considered suitable for spatial patterns of soil micro-topography evolution from rainfall events that bear similarity to landscape scale pattern evolution from eco-hydrological processes. Although much more study is needed for calibrating the landscape metrics at the micro-scale, this study is a step forward in demonstrating the advantages of the method.