The lasting effects of tank maneuvers on desert soils and intershrub flora

Open-File Report 2000-512




Mojave Desert soils and intershrub flora sustained lasting disturbances during military training maneuvers initiated by General George Patton, Jr. in the 1940s, and during Operation Desert Strike in 1964. At six sites, mean desert pavement clast size was significantly smaller by 15% to 50% in single tank tracks compared to undisturbed surfaces. The finer-grained tracks yielded significantly higher surface reflectance values at two of three sites. At one site, Patton era tank tracks cross centuries-old "intaglios" and there was no significant difference in clast size between the disturbances. Full recovery of pavement surfaces may require a change in climate since pavements formed in Pleistocene times under climatic conditions that no longer exist. Tank tracks of both ages exhibited significant levels of soil compaction, as indicated by penetrometer resistance values that were 51% to 120% greater than those in undisturbed soils to 0.3 m depth. Soil bulk density in tracks was 4% to 6% higher than in undisturbed soils. Soil compaction lowered infiltration rates in tank tracks by 24% to 55% in comparison to undisturbed soils. Compaction has prevented the intershrub flora from recovering in tank tracks. Annual and herbaceous perennial plant density was higher by 13% to 56% in tank tracks than in undisturbed soils, but compaction has restricted the growth of individual plants. This was reflected in plant cover values, which were 3% to 16% lower in tank tracks than in undisturbed soils. Soil compaction also altered the species composition. Species with long taproots, such as Chaenactis fremontii, were reduced in density and cover in tank tracks, whereas grass species with shallow, fibrous root systems had large density increases in tracks. Another important element of the intershrub flora, cryptobiotic crust, exhibited a low rate of recovery from the impact of tank travel at one site. The cover of the most well-developed component of the crusts, growing on delicate soil pedicels in undisturbed soils, was reduced by 50% in tank tracks because of destruction and compaction of the uppermost soil layers.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
The lasting effects of tank maneuvers on desert soils and intershrub flora
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Soil Biogeochemistry Group
iv, 22 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Mojave Desert