Soil Development Following Disturbance Due to Explosive Munitions on the WWI Battlefield of Verdun, France




Joseph P. Hupy and Randall J. Schaetzl


Much research has been done on how the physical environment can influence the outcome of battle, but few have studied the inverse: the effects of warfare upon the environment. The goal of this research is to characterize and help understand soil development within areas disturbed

by explosive munitions on the WWI battlefield of Verdun, France (1916). Encompassing an area of 29,000 km2, the battlefield remains one of the most heavily shelled of all time. Twenty-seven pedons were sampled and described, at three sites on the battlefield; some pedons were within

artillery craters while others were on adjacent “undisturbed” soils. Site selection reflected the diversity of bedrock and drainage characteristics across the study area. Soil development was characterized within the crater bottoms and sides. Many craters penetrated the shallow limestone

bedrock, and blasted out fragments of limestone on nearby undisturbed pedons had already been incorporated into the profile. Despite the short period of time since the battle (88 years), measurable amounts of weathering and pedogenesis has occurred in the soils within the craters. A major pedogenic process operative here is the accumulation and decomposition of organic matter, which is intimately associated with (and aided by) earthworm bioturbation. Based on elemental analysis of the fine earth fraction, measurable amounts of leaching and weathering have occurred in the 88 years since the battle. This study provides insight into the ability of a landscape to recover following a catastrophic anthropogenic disturbance..