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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Quantifying Soil Erosion and Runoff from Western Rangelands

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
The primary purpose is to upgrade and provide engineering drawings for the rainfall simulator and to participate in field research to quantify concentrated flow soil erosion and document water quality on western rangelands in support of the USDA Conservation Affects Assessment Project (CEAP). The Desert Research Institute is undertaking a cooperative project with the Agricultural Research Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Bureau of Land Management to document the status of knowledge regarding the environmental impact of conservation practices for improving water availability and quality in western watersheds. Specifically the project will: A) Upgrade the rainfall simulator being operated by the ARS laboratory in Reno in order to better address research objectives that are of joint interest to ARS and DRI. These modifications will outfit the existing simulator with the ability to efficiently capture overlapping digital photographs from the top of the structure so that patterns of erosion can be quantified with a photogrammetric terrain model and orthophotography. Modifications will be documented in a manner that allows for ongoing system maintenance by ARS; B) Desert Research Institute will undertake a cooperative project with ARS to research the effects of conservation practices on sediment transport, water availability and water quality in western watersheds. The objectives of this research are to quantify the impact of cheatgrass and pinyon and juniper trees on Great Basin ecosystem processes and to improve understanding of the sources, mobilization, and transport of dissolved solids in rangelands in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB). The project will use quantitative methods for field research and data analysis that will generate knowledge which will be transferrable to other semi-arid and arid rangelands.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) will work with the ARS scientific team to design modifications to the rainfall simulator that allow a nadir viewing digital camera to be moved across the top of the structure so that stereo digital photographs can be acquired for subsequent development of orthophotography and a digital elevation model of the simulator plot. A track system with a pulley will allow a camera mount to transit along the top of the simulator structure. This track system will allow a nadir-viewing digital camera to efficiently collect overlapping photographs of the simulator plot without interfering with the normal operation of the simulator. DRI will design and assemble these modifications to the simulator. DRI also will provide engineering drawings of modifications to the simulator that will allow ARS to maintain and repair the system over time.

Desert Research Institute will participate in field research with the ARs scientific team to quantify concentrated flow soil erosion and document its effects on water quality and quantity for western rangelands in support of the USDA Conservation Affects Assessment Project (CEAP). DRI will collect and analyze data on the three dimensional configuration of soil and vegetation in conjunction with the operation of a rainfall simulator by ARS scientists. A portable LIDAR system will scan ARS rainfall simulator plots before and after a number of rainfall simulations. Three dimensional point clouds from the LIDAR system will be processed into digital elevation models that are suitable for assessing soil erosion. LIDAR data will be processed in order to allow effective comparisons with alternative methods of surface model development, such as digital photogrammetry. DRI will work with ARS scientists on joint research to characterize the effects of vegetation and soil surface geometry on concentrated flow patterns. DRI will work collaboratively with ARS scientists to publish findings in peer reviewed scientific journals.


3.Progress Report:

This agreement was established in support of objective 4 of the in-house project, the goals being to develop decision support tools for USDA to assess impact of type, location and number of management practices required to meet conservation and agricultural production goals nationwide. The research proposed in this project will help achieve the following National Program 215 (Pasture, Forage, and Rangeland Systems) objective through initiation of individual and multi-agency joint research projects: Objective B.2. Develop decision support tools usable at multiple scales including landscape levels for inventorying and assessing rangelands; and, for selecting, implementing, and monitoring conservation and restoration practices.

Activity for this cooperative agreement has been quite limited, as the project was not initiated until May of 2013. During this time, the cooperators at Desert Research Institute (DRI) met with personnel of the USDA ARS Great Basin Rangelands Research Unit, Reno, Nevada, to discuss plans for the upcoming year, including the fabrication of a photogrammetric capability for the ARS rainfall simulator, field work in Reno, Nevada, North Dakota and Utah, and plans for joint publications on measuring sediment transport with photogrammetric and LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) systems. DRI has begun the process of modifying the rainfall simulator. A new field experiment is planned for August, 2013 to test the recently modified rainfall simulator. The work performed during this period is consistent with the tasks specified in the agreement. At this time there are no project outputs to report.


Last Modified: 12/26/2014
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