Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1679–1690 | Cite as

A laboratory study on rill network development and morphological characteristics on loessial hillslope

  • Chao Qin
  • Fenli Zheng
  • Ximeng Xu
  • Hongyan Wu
  • Haiou Shen
Soils, Sec 5 • Soil and Landscape Ecology • Research Article



Rills are basic pathways for runoff, sediment, and pollutant transport at hillslopes within agricultural watershed. The objectives of this study were to investigate the development processes of rill network and morphological characteristics and to examine their affecting factors.

Materials and methods

A soil box (10 m long, 1.5 m wide, and 0.5 m deep) was subjected to four successive simulated rains under rainfall intensity of 90 mm h−1 with slope gradients of 15° and 25°. Digital elevation models (5 mm resolution) were created from the terrestrial laser scanning measurements.

Results and discussion

Total soil loss was 46.3 and 61.0 kg m−2 at the 15° and 25° slope gradients, and rill erosion occupied over 75% of the total soil loss. Soil loss and rill erosion were expressed as power equations to the product of slope gradient and accumulated rainfall. Rill networks evolved in a converging way and reached maturity in the fourth rain. Main rill length and rill width, depth, and degree of contour line departure increased with increased rains, while rill width/depth ratio showed the opposite trend. Secondary rill length and rill density increased in the first two rains, and then both decreased in the latter two rains. Scour effect of lateral interfluve flow and meander cutoffs of rill flow were two sub-processes of rill piracy. Rill length and density decreased due to rill piracy specific in merging of secondary rills into main rills. Plow pan and secondary headcuts played key roles in main rill bed incision and sidewall expansion processes, while both had little impact on secondary rills.


Results of this study can improve the understanding of how plow pan, rill piracy, and secondary headcut affect rill network and morphologies and provide fundamental knowledge for designing rill prevention practices.


Plow pan Rill morphology Secondary headcut Soil erosion TLS 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Glenn V. Wilson’s help in revising the English grammar, as well as Dr. Robert R. Wells, the editors, and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.

Funding information

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 41271299 and 4171101192), Opening Funds of MWR Key Laboratory of Soil and Water Loss Process and Control in the Loess Plateau (No. 2017001), Special-Funds of Scientific Research Programs of State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau (A314021403-C2), and China Scholarship Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess PlateauNorthwest A & F UniversityYanglingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.National Center for Computational Hydroscience and EngineeringUniversity of MississippiOxfordUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, CAS & MWRYanglingPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Collage of Resources and EnvironmentJilin Agriculture UniversityJilinPeople’s Republic of China

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