The influence of terracettes on the surface hydrology of steep-sloping and subalpine environments: some preliminary findings
- Physical Geography & Environmental Change, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
Abstract. Alpine and mountain slopes represent important pathways that link high-altitude grazing areas to meadows and rangelands at lower elevations. Given the often acute gradients associated with such environments, they potentially represent highly efficient runoff conveyance routes that facilitate the downslope movement of runoff and associated material during erosion events. Many such slopes host series of small steps, or "terracettes". The juxtaposition of terracettes against the natural downslope flow path of non-complex slopes leads us to hypothesise that they may influence typical hillslope processes by intercepting or capturing surface runoff. Here we report preliminary results and some tentative conclusions from ongoing work to explore this possibility. Google Earth was used to initially identify a ca. 400 m2 well-developed terracette system situated on a west-facing slope with gradients ranging from 25 to 40° (46 to 84 %). A digital elevation model (DEM) of the terracettes was constructed using spatial data taken from a relevant section of topographic map. The DEM was then queried using a flow-accumulation algorithm and the results displayed in a geographic information system. The output data provided "proof of concept" that terracettes can capture surface runoff. The generation of empirical data from a series of rainfall/runoff simulations performed on the same section of terracettes supports this finding. Results from both work components indicate that sections of a terracette system may intercept runoff and could act as preferential flow pathways. By contrast, some sections appeared to act as depositional sites. We cautiously predict that these areas could act as retention zones for the temporary storage of runoff-associated substances. Greater understanding of the exact influence of terracettes on surface hydrology in steep-sloping and subalpine environments could benefit the future management of grazing and rangelands in such areas.