Factors controlling the spatial distribution of soil piping erosion on loess-derived soils: A case study from central Belgium
Collapsible loess-derived soils are prone to soil piping erosion, where enlargement of macropores may lead to a subsurface pipe network and eventually to soil collapse and gully development. This study aims at understanding the main factors controlling spatial patterns of piping in loess-derived soils under a temperate climate. To map the spatial distribution of piping and identify the environmental controls on its distribution, a regional survey was carried out in a 236 km 2 study area in the Flemish Ardennes (Belgium). Orthophotos taken at optimal field conditions (winter) were analyzed to detect piping in open landscapes and ground thruthing was systematically done through field surveys. In total, 137 parcels having 560 collapsed pipes were mapped. Dimensions of the sinkholes and local slope gradient were measured in the field and topographical variables were derived from LiDAR data. Land use plays an important role as 97% of the sites with piping are found under pasture. The probability of piping increases rapidly on hillslopes with gradients exceeding 8% and with a concave profile and plan curvature, enhancing subsurface flow concentration. The zones with soil profiles on shallow loess over a relatively thin layer of homogeneous blue massive clays (Aalbeke Member) are most prone to piping. Soil characteristics are of less importance to explain piping occurrence. Furthermore, the topographical threshold line indicating the critical slope gradient for a given contributing drainage area was determined. This threshold line (negative power relation) is similar to the threshold line for shallow gully initiation.