Decision support for the selection of reference sites using 137Cs as a soil erosion tracer
Abstract. The classical approach of using 137Cs as a soil erosion tracer is based on the comparison between stable reference sites and sites affected by soil redistribution processes; it enables the derivation of soil erosion and deposition rates. The method is associated with potentially large sources of uncertainty with major parts of this uncertainty being associated with the selection of the reference sites. We propose a decision support tool to Check the Suitability of reference Sites (CheSS). Commonly, the variation among 137Cs inventories of spatial replicate reference samples is taken as the sole criterion to decide on the suitability of a reference inventory. Here we propose an extension of this procedure using a repeated sampling approach, in which the reference sites are resampled after a certain time period. Suitable reference sites are expected to present no significant temporal variation in their decay-corrected 137Cs depth profiles. Possible causes of variation are assessed by a decision tree. More specifically, the decision tree tests for (i) uncertainty connected to small-scale variability in 137Cs due to its heterogeneous initial fallout (such as in areas affected by the Chernobyl fallout), (ii) signs of erosion or deposition processes and (iii) artefacts due to the collection, preparation and measurement of the samples; (iv) finally, if none of the above can be assigned, this variation might be attributed to
turbation processes (e.g. bioturbation, cryoturbation and mechanical turbation, such as avalanches or rockfalls). CheSS was exemplarily applied in one Swiss alpine valley where the apparent temporal variability called into question the suitability of the selected reference sites. In general we suggest the application of CheSS as a first step towards a comprehensible approach to test for the suitability of reference sites.