Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dryland soil recovery after disturbance across soil and climate gradients of the Colorado Plateau

May 9, 2024

Drylands impacted by energy development often require costly reclamation activities to reconstruct damaged soils and vegetation, yet little is known about the effectiveness of reclamation practices in promoting recovery of soil quality due to a lack of long-term and cross-site studies. Here, we examined paired on-pad and adjacent undisturbed off-pad soil properties over a 22-year chronosequence of 91 reclaimed oil or gas well pads across soil and climate gradients of the Colorado Plateau in the southwestern United States. Our goals were to estimate the time required for soil properties to reach undisturbed conditions, examine the multivariate nature of soil quality following reclamation, and identify environmental factors that affect reclamation outcomes. Soil samples, collected in 2020 and 2021, were analyzed for biogeochemical pools (total nitrogen, and total organic and inorganic carbon), chemical characteristics (salinity, sodicity, pH), and texture. Predicted time to recovery across all sites was 29 years for biogeochemical soil properties, 31 years for soil chemical properties, and 6 years for soil texture. Ordination of soil properties revealed differences between on- and off-pad soils, while site aridity explained variability in on-pad recovery. The predicted time to total soil recovery (distance between on- and off-pad in ordination space) was 96 years, which was longer than any individual soil property. No site reached total recovery, indicating that individual soil properties alone may not fully indicate recovery in soil quality as soil recovery does not equal the sum of its parts. Site aridity was the largest predictor of reclamation outcomes, but the effects differed depending on soil type. Taken together, results suggest the recovery of soil quality - which reflects soil fertility, carbon sequestration potential, and other ecosystem functions - was influenced primarily by site setting, with soil type and aridity major mediators of on-pad carbon, salinity, and total soil recovery following reclamation.

Publication Year 2024
Title Dryland soil recovery after disturbance across soil and climate gradients of the Colorado Plateau
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172976
Authors Kathryn Delores Eckhoff, Sasha C. Reed, John B. Bradford, Nikita C. Daly, Keven Griffen, Robin H. Reibold, Randi Lupardus, Seth M. Munson, Aarin Sengsirirak, Miguel L. Villarreal, Michael C. Duniway
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70254194
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center