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The role of rare rainstorms in the formation of calcic soil horizons on alluvial surfaces in extreme deserts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Rivka Amit*
The Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhe Israel St., Jerusalem, 95501, Israel
Yehouda Enzel
The Fredy and Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Edmond J. Safra campus, Givat Ram, Jerusalem 91904, Israel
Tamir Grodek
Department of Geography, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel
Onn Crouvi
The Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhe Israel St., Jerusalem, 95501, Israel The Fredy and Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Edmond J. Safra campus, Givat Ram, Jerusalem 91904, Israel
Naomi Porat
The Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhe Israel St., Jerusalem, 95501, Israel
Avner Ayalon
The Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhe Israel St., Jerusalem, 95501, Israel
*Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: (R. Amit), (Y. Enzel), (T. Grodek), (O. Crouvi), (N. Porat), (A. Ayalon).


Soils in similar geomorphic settings in hyperarid deserts (< 50 mm yr 1) should have similar characteristics because a negative moisture balance controls their development. However, Reg soils in the hyperarid southern Negev and Namib deserts are distinctly different. Soils developed on stable alluvial surfaces with only direct input of rainfall and dust depend heavily on rainfall characteristics. Annual rainfall amount can be similar (15–30 mm), but storm duration can drastically alter Reg soil properties in deserts. The cooler fall/winter and dry hot summers of the southern Negev Desert with a predominance brief (≤ 1 day) rainstorms result in gypsic-saline soils without any calcic soil horizon. Although the Namib Desert receives only 50–60% of the southern Negev annual rainfall, its rainstorm duration is commonly 2–4 days. This improves leaching of the top soil under even lower annual rainfall amount and results in weeks-long grass cover. The long-term cumulative effect of these rare rain-grass relationships produces a calcic-gypsic-saline soil. The development of these different kinds of desert soils highlights the importance of daily to seasonal rainfall characteristics in influencing soil-moisture regime in deserts, and has important implications for the use of key desert soil properties as proxies in paleoclimatology.

Research Article
University of Washington

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