Document Type


Publication Date

February 2012

Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface



Issue Number





Past studies of hillslope evolution have typically assumed that soil creep processes are governed by a linear relationship between local hillslope angle and transport distance. The assumption of “linear diffusion” has fallen out of favor because, when coupled with an expression of mass continuity, it yields unrealistic hillslope profiles. As a consequence, a better understanding of the mechanics of sediment transport is needed. Here we report results from a series of flume experiments performed to investigate sediment transport by dry ravel, a common soil creep process in arid and semiarid environments. We find that, at gentle slopes, transport distances follow distributions characteristic of local transport. As gradients steepen, a fraction of the particles begins to exhibit nonlocal transport, and that fraction increases rapidly with slope. A stochastic discrete element model that couples an effective friction term with a shock term reproduces the results from the flume experiments, suggesting that it can be used to explore the nature of particle transport on rough surfaces. The model predicts that exponential distributions of transport distances on gentle slopes evolve into quasi-uniform distributions on steep slopes, and the transition occurs as slopes approach the angle of repose. Our results support previous findings that the angle of repose represents a threshold between friction and inertial regimes. In addition, we propose that the angle of repose represents a fuzzy boundary between local and nonlocal transport.


This article was originally published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface Vol. 117, Iss. F1 by the American Geophysical Union on February 24, 2012. The article is also available online at this link.
Copyright 2012 American Geophysical Union.

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