Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 269–276 | Cite as

Mechanism of cultivation soil degradation in rocky desertification areas under dry/wet cycles

  • Wei-min Ye
  • Zi-yuan Qi
  • Bao ChenEmail author
  • Ji Xie
  • Yu Huang
  • Yao-ru Lu
  • Yu-Jun Cui
Original Article


Karst rocky desertification is a process of land degradation involving serious soil erosion, extensive exposure of basement rocks. It leads to drastic decrease in soil productivity and formation of a desert-like landscape. In this regard, changes in climatic conditions are the main origin of the soils degradation. Indeed, soils subjected to successive dry/wet cycling processes caused by climate change develop swelling and shrinkage deformations which can modify their water retention properties, thus inducing the degradation of soil–water capacity. The ecological characteristics of cultivation soils in karst areas, Southwest of China, are extremely easy to be affected by external environmental factors due to its shallow bedding and low vegetation coverage. Based on the analysis of the climate (precipitation) of this region during the past decades, an experimental study has been conducted on a cultivated soil obtained from the typical karst area in southwestern China. Firstly, the soil–water properties have been investigated. The measured soil–water retention curve shows that the air-entry value of the soil is between 50 and 60 kPa, while the residual saturation is about 12%. Based on the experimental results, three identifiable stages of de-saturation have been defined. Secondly, a special apparatus was developed to investigate the volume change behavior of the soil with controlled suction cycles. The vapor equilibrium technique was used for the suction control. The obtained results show that under the effect of dry/wet cycles, (1) the void ratio of the cultivated soil is continuously decreasing, leading to a gradual soil compaction. (2) The permeability decreases, giving rise to a deterioration of water transfer ability as well as a deterioration of soil–water retention capacity. It is then obvious that the long-term dry/wet cycling process caused by the climate change induce a continuously compaction and degradation of the cultivated soil in karst rocky desertification areas.


Rocky desertification Dry/wet cycle Suction control Water retention curve Soil degradation 



This study was supported by the National Basic Research Program (2006CB403200) of China, Shanghai Leading Academic Discipline Project (B308) and Kwang-Hua Education Fund of Tongji University.


  1. Barksdale RD (1972) Laboratory evaluation of rutting in base course materials [A]. In: Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on the structural design of Asphalt Pavements, University of Michigan, pp 161–174Google Scholar
  2. Blatz J, Cui YJ, Oldecop L (2008) vapour equilibrium and osmotic technique for suction control. Geotech Geol Eng Spec Issue Lab Field Test Unsaturated Soils 26(6):661–673Google Scholar
  3. Chen J (2001) An analysis of relation between rain gush and dryness–wetness in flood reason in Guiyang [J]. J Guizhou Meteorol 3(25):3–4 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  4. Cui YJ, Delage P (1996) Yielding and plastic behaviour of an unsaturated compacted silt. Géotechnique 46(2):291–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Delage P, Cui YJ (2008a) An evaluation of the osmotic method of controlling suction. Geomech Geoeng Int J 3(1):1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Delage P, Cui YJ (2008b) A novel filtration system for polyethylene glycol solutions used in the osmotic method of controlling suction. Can Geotech J 45:421–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Delage P, Cui YJ, Yahia-Aissa M, De Laure E (1998a) On the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of a dense compacted bentonite. In: Proceedings of Unsat’98, Beijing, vol 1, pp 344–349Google Scholar
  8. Delage P, Howat M, Cui YJ (1998b) The relationship between suction and swelling properties in a heavily compacted unsaturated clay. Eng Geol 50(1–2):31–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fayos BC (1997) The roles of texture and structure in the water retention capacity of burnt Mediterranean soils with varying rainfall. Catena 31:219–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fredlund DG, Hahardjo H (1993) Soil mechanics for unsaturated soils. Wiley, New York, 517pGoogle Scholar
  11. Hao J-W (2003) Guizhou statistical yearbook [M]. Chinese Statistics Publishing House, vol 14 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  12. Hu BQ, Liao CM, Yan ZQ, Li L, Qin KX (2004) Design and application of dynamic monitoring and visualization management information system of karst land rocky desertification. Chin Geogr Sci 14(2):122–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jing JL, Chen ZH, Hu C, Wang ZM (2003) Study on eco-environment fragile evaluation of Karst Mountains in southwest China. Geol Sci Tech Inf 23(3):95–99 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  14. Liao H-R (2004) Research on mechanical behaviour and predicting model of subgrade red clay under repeated dynamic load [D]. Department of Geosciences, Zhongshan University, Guangzhou (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  15. Liao CM, Liu YH, Hu BQ, Yan ZQ, Zhou X (2004) Atlas analyses of karst land rocky desertification and ecological rehabilitation model. Trans Chin Soc Agric Eng 20(6):266–271 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  16. Long J, Li J, Deng Q-Q (2006) Soil properties and fractal features in the rocky desertification process of Karst regions, Guizhou province [J]. Chin J Soil Sci 37(4):635–639 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  17. Majidzadeh K, Bayomy F, Khedr S (1978) Rutting evaluation of subgrade soils in Ohio [M]. TRR 637, TRB, Washington DC, pp 75–84Google Scholar
  18. Monismith CL, Ogawa N, Freeme CR (1975) Permanent. Deformation characteristics of subgrade soils due to repeated loading [M]. TRR 537, Washington DC, pp 1–17Google Scholar
  19. Montes-H G, Duplay J, Martinez L, Mendoza C (2003) Swelling–shrinkage kinetics of MX80 bentonite. Appl Clay Sci 22:279–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Saiyouri N, Hicher PY, Tessier D (2000) Microstructural approach and transfer water modeling in highly compacted unsaturated swelling clays. Mech Cohes Frict Mater 5:41–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sivakumar MVK (2006) Interactions between climate and desertification. Agric For Meteorol 142(2–4):143–155Google Scholar
  22. Tang AM, Cui YJ (2005) Controlling suction by the vapour equilibrium technique at different temperatures and its application in determining the water retention properties of MX 80 clay. Can Geotech J 42:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tang AM, Cui YJ, Qian LX, Delage P, Ye WM (2010) Calibration of the osmotic technique of controlling suction with respect to temperature using a miniature tensiometer. Can Geotech J 47:359–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Vanapalli SK, Fredlund DG, Pufahl DE (1999) The influence of soil structure and stress history on the soil–water characteristics of a compacted till. Geotechnique 49(2):143–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wall A, Heiskanen J (2003) Water-retention characteristics and related physical properties of soil on afforested agricultural land in Finland. For Ecol Manag 186(1–3):21–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wang D-L, Zhu S-Q, Huang B-L (2003) Primary study on soil physical and chemical properties in rocky desertification process [J]. J Mountain Agric Biol 22(3):204–207 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  27. Wang SJ, Li RL, Sun CX, Zhang DF, Li FQ, Zhou DQ, Xiong KN, Zhou ZF (2004a) How types of carbonate rock assemblages constrain the distribution of karst rocky desertified land in Guizhou Province, PR China: phenomena and mechanisms. Land Degrad Dev 15:123–131. doi: 10.1002/ldr.591 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wang S-J, Liu Q-M, Zhang D-F (2004b) Karst rocky desertification in southwestern china: geomorphology, land use, impact and rehabilitation. Land degrad dev 15:115–121.
  29. Xiong YJ, Qiu GY, Mo DK, Lin H, Sun H, Wang QX, Zhao SH, Yin J (2009) Rocky desertification and its causes in karst areas: a case study in Yongshun County, Hunan Province, China. Env Geol 57(7):1481–1488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Yang J-L, Wang J-K, Zhang G-L (2004) The compaction degradation of urban soil and its environmental impacts [J]. Chin J Soil Sci 35(6):688–694 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  31. Yao CH, Yang GF, Jiang ZC (2001) Rocky desertification formation and ecological harness of karst area in Guizhou. Geol Sci Tech Inf 20(2):75–78 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  32. Ye WM, Cui Y-J, Tang Y-Q (2005) Measurement of soil suction in laboratory and soil-water characteristics of Shanghai soft soil [J]. Chin J Geotech Eng 27(3):347–349 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  33. Ye WM, Cui YJ, Qian LX, Chen B (2009) An experimental study of the water transfer through confined compacted GMZ bentonite. Eng Geol 108(3–4):169–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Zhao Z-Q (2006) The process and mechanism of soil degradation in Karst area in southwest China [J]. Earth Sci Front 13(3):185–189 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  35. Zhu S-Q (2003) Preliminary explore to hydraulic effects of forest in Karst areas [M]. Guizhou Science and Technology Press (in Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wei-min Ye
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zi-yuan Qi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bao Chen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ji Xie
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yu Huang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yao-ru Lu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yu-Jun Cui
    • 3
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Geotechnical and Underground Engineering of Ministry of EducationTongji UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.United Research Center for Urban Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentThe Ministry of EducationShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, UMR Navier/CERMESParisFrance

Personalised recommendations