Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1767–1779 | Cite as

A 300-year record of sedimentation in a small tilled catena in Hungary based on δ13C, δ15N, and C/N distribution

  • Gergely Jakab
  • István Hegyi
  • Michael Fullen
  • Judit Szabó
  • Dóra Zacháry
  • Zoltán Szalai
Sediments, Sec 3 • Hillslope and River Basin Sediment Dynamics • Research Article



Soil erosion is one of the most serious hazards that endanger sustainable food production. Moreover, it has marked effects on soil organic carbon (SOC) with direct links to global warming. At the same time, soil organic matter (SOM) changes in composition and space could influence these processes. The aim of this study was to predict soil erosion and sedimentation volume and dynamics on a typical hilly cropland area of Hungary due to forest clearance in the early eighteenth century.

Materials and methods

Horizontal soil samples were taken along two parallel intensively cultivated complex convex-concave slopes from the eroded upper parts at mid-slope positions and from sedimentation in toe-slopes. Samples were measured for SOC, total nitrogen (TN) content, and SOM compounds (δ13C, δ15N, and photometric indexes). They were compared to the horizons of an in situ non-eroded profile under continuous forest. On the depositional profile cores, soil depth prior to sedimentation was calculated by the determination of sediment thickness.

Results and discussion

Peaks of SOC in the sedimentation profiles indicated thicker initial profiles, while peaks in C/N ratio and δ13C distribution showed the original surface to be ~ 20 cm lower. Peaks of SOC were presumed to be the results of deposition of SOC-enriched soil from the upper slope transported by selective erosion of finer particles (silts and clays). Therefore, changes in δ13C values due to tillage and delivery would fingerprint the original surface much better under the sedimentation scenario than SOC content. Distribution of δ13C also suggests that the main sedimentation phase occurred immediately after forest clearance and before the start of intense cultivation with maize.


This highlights the role of relief in sheet erosion intensity compared to intensive cultivation. Patterns of δ13C indicate the original soil surface, even in profiles deposited as sediment centuries ago. The δ13C and C/N decrease in buried in situ profiles had the same tendency as recent forest soil, indicating constant SOM quality distribution after burial. Accordingly, microbiological activity, root uptake, and metabolism have not been effective enough to modify initial soil properties.


δ13δ15Sedimentation Soil erosion Soil organic carbon 



The corresponding author was supported by the Bolyai János Fellowship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The study was supported by OTKA K-100180. The authors are also grateful to E. Mészáros for SOC measurements and to the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geographical Institute, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences Hungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Landscape GeographyEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary
  3. 3.Institute for Geological and Geochemical Research, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, Hungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary
  4. 4.Faculty of Science and EngineeringThe University of WolverhamptonWolverhamptonUK

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