The Effect of Porous Concrete Paving on Underlying Soil Conditions and Growth of Platanus orientalis
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Urbanisation is characterised by mass migration of people to urban areas and conversion of land from rural to urban land uses. Changes in population dynamics have led to half the world’s population living in urban areas; in developed countries, urban dwellers account for three-quarters of the total population. Though populations have shifted from rural to urban areas, people continue to rely on their environment, and trees in particular, for tangible and intangible benefits alike. A great deal of factual and anecdotal knowledge supports the role of trees for ecological, social, and economic well-being. In spite of this, during urbanisation, previously vegetated land is converted to housing, roads, or utility corridors, all of which are necessary to support growing populations.
This thesis investigates tree growth in these modified urban landscapes, in particular, the effects of pavements on urban trees. Pavements are truly pervasive, covering more than half of all land in highly developed urban areas. Their durability and strength are of great importance to transportation, but large-scale soil sealing is not without consequence. Pavements affect the hydrologic cycle, soil and air temperature, and nutrient cycling. Because of their effect on the surrounding environment, pavements inherently affect remnant or planted trees. They are believed to negatively affect tree growth and survival, thereby compromising the ecological, social, and economic benefits otherwise derived from the urban forest.
In recent times, porous pavements have been increasingly installed in favour of impervious pavements. Porous pavements are perceived to be an environmentally-sound alternative to standard impervious pavements. This thesis begins by reviewing the literature concerning porous pavement’s effect on underlying soil and urban vegetation, thus illustrating the scarcity of empirical data describing the effect of porous pavement on tree growth. A greater understanding of porous pavement’s impact on the surrounding environment is needed, if its installation is to continue.
With this aim in mind, this thesis describes an experiment in Christchurch, New Zealand, which monitored the impacts of porous and impervious pavement on underlying soil conditions, and subsequent tree growth. The experiment comprised 50 Platanus orientalis trees planted in an augmented factorial design, which consisted of controls and four treatments. Trees were split evenly amongst plots, such that ten replicates existed per treatment. The pavement treatments measured 2.3m by 2.3m, and were based on the combination of pavement type (2 levels: porous, impervious) and pavement profile design (2 levels: +/- subbase compaction and gravel base). The resulting four treatments were impervious concrete pavement (IP), impervious concrete pavement with compacted subbase and gravel base (IP+), porous concrete pavement (PP), and porous concrete pavement with compacted subbase and gravel base (PP+). From December 2007 to March 2009, data were collected to determine the effect of these treatments on soil moisture, aeration, pH, and nutrient concentration. Final tree height, stem diameter, shoot and root biomass, and root distribution were also measured at the conclusion of the experiment.
Results of this experiment indicated that the effects of pavement porosity on soil moisture and aeration were dynamic, varying with season and soil depth. Increased soil moisture beneath porous pavements resulted from rapid infiltration following precipitation. This decreased the duration of plant stress resulting from drought. Relative to bare soil, paved plots had consistently greater soil moisture, likely because pavements reduced evaporation. The inclusion of a gravel base in the profile design limited capillary upflow, which resulted in lower soil moisture under pavements designed with a gravel base. Soil aeration was significantly lower beneath pavements relative to unpaved plots. This is likely related to greater soil moisture beneath pavements. Finally, soil pH increased beneath pavements, in particular beneath porous pavements.
Though all growth parameters increased for trees surrounded by porous, rather than impervious pavement, this occurred only in the absence of a compacted subgrade and gravel base. Evidently, the impact of the compacted subgrade superseded the impact of pavement porosity. Furthermore, root growth was relatively shallow beneath pavements, likely due to favourable soil moisture directly beneath pavements.
This research highlights (i) the dramatic effect of pavements on underlying soil conditions; (ii) that pavements do not inherently limit tree growth; (iii) that porous pavements can conditionally improve tree growth; and (iv) that soil compaction limits potential benefits resulting from porous pavements.