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Soil compaction vulnerability at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

March 11, 2014

Compaction vulnerability of different types of soils by hikers and vehicles is poorly known, particularly for soils of arid and semiarid regions. Engineering analyses have long shown that poorly sorted soils (for example, sandy loams) compact to high densities, whereas well-sorted soils (for example, eolian sand) do not compact, and high gravel content may reduce compaction. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ORPI) in southwestern Arizona, is affected greatly by illicit activities associated with the United States–Mexico border, and has many soils that resource managers consider to be highly vulnerable to compaction. Using geospatial soils data for ORPI, compaction vulnerability was estimated qualitatively based on the amount of gravel and the degree of sorting of sand and finer particles. To test this qualitative assessment, soil samples were collected from 48 sites across all soil map units, and undisturbed bulk densities were measured. A scoring system was used to create a vulnerability index for soils on the basis of particle-size sorting, soil properties derived from Proctor compaction analyses, and the field undisturbed bulk densities. The results of the laboratory analyses indicated that the qualitative assessments of soil compaction vulnerability underestimated the area of high vulnerability soils by 73 percent. The results showed that compaction vulnerability of desert soils, such as those at ORPI, can be quantified using laboratory tests and evaluated using geographic information system analyses, providing a management tool that managers potentially could use to inform decisions about activities that reduce this type of soil disruption in protected areas.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Soil compaction vulnerability at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141048
Authors Robert H. Webb, Kenneth E. Nussear, Shinji Carmichael, Todd C. Esque
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2014-1048
Index ID ofr20141048
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center