Mass Wasting and Sediment Storage in a Small Montane Watershed: an Extreme Case of Anthropogenic Disturbance in the Humid Tropics

LARSEN, M.C. and SANTIAGO-ROMA´ N, A., 2001. Mass wasting and
sediment storage in a small montane watershed: an extreme case
of anthropogenic disturbance in the humid tropics. In: DORAVA,
J.M.; FITZPATRICK, F.; PALCSAK, B.B., and MONTGOMERY, D.R.
(eds.), Geomorphic Processes and Riverine Habitat. American Geophysical
Union Monograph, pp. 142–170.

Abstract: 
By the peak of land-use conversion for subsistence cropping and plantation agriculture in Puerto Rico in the 1940's, 94 percent of the original forest cover had been eliminated. In a small (26.4 km2) upland watershed that typifies this land-use history, field surveys and examination of aerial photographs indicate that more than 2,000 landslides have occurred since about 1820 when forest clearing began. The landslides are attributable to a combination of three factors: a highly weathered bedrock (Cretaceous granodiorite), episodic heavy rainfall, and almost two centuries of intense land-use practices. On average, landslide scars number 140/km2 in the Cayaguás watershed, equal to 80 landslide scars/km2/100 y. The volume of hillslope material eroded by landsliding is estimated at 660,000 m3/km2 (870,000 Mg/km2). If all colluvium was transported from the catchment, then the volume is equivalent to a mean surface lowering of the entire watershed by 660 mm, or 3.8 mm/y. Soil augering, field observations at construction sites, road cuts and stream banks, mapping from aerial photographs, and GIS-based estimates of the surface area of footslopes, indicate that colluvium may total 149,000 Mg/km2. If mobilized, this would be sufficient stored material to supply the annual average fluvial sediment yield for as long as 129 years. The great availability of colluvial and alluvial sediment on footslopes, floodplains, and in channels will maintain high sediment yield well into the 21st century in spite of government efforts to reforest hillslopes and institute other hillslope soil conservation measures.