Isotopes of Be and C were used to reconstruct loess accumulation, hillslope evolution, and agricultural modification in soils of western Iowa. While both elements are derived from additions by the atmosphere (via plants in the case of carbon), the differences in element cycling allow erosional and depositional processes to be separated from biochemical processing. Based on 10Be, loess accumulation likely occurred simultaneously with hillslope degradation. Rates of loess accumulation declined five-fold between early stages (late Pleistocene and early Holocene) and later stages (late Holocene) of accumulation, but the absolute timing of accumulation requires independent dating methods. Based on 14C measurements, plant inputs and decomposition are significant near the surface, but below 1-1.5 m carbon inputs are minimal and decomposition is nearly arrested. The amount of carbon below 1.5 m is constant (0.1%) and is composed of soil organic matter that was buried by loess. Agricultural modification results in a dramatic redistribution of 10Be through soil erosion and deposition. By contrast, the redistribution of soil organic matter is masked by the rapid cycling of C through the topsoil as it continually decomposes and is replaced by plant inputs.
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Cycling of beryllium and carbon through hillslope soils in Iowa