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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: OBJECT MODELING AND SCALING OF LANDSCAPE PROCESSES AND CONSERVATION EFFECTS IN AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS

Location: Agricultural Systems Research Unit

Title: Spatial Features, Scaling and Simulation in Semi-Arid Agricultural Terrain

Authors
item Green, Timothy
item Erskine, Robert
item Ma, Liwang

Submitted to: American Society of Agronomy Meetings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: June 12, 2008
Publication Date: October 5, 2008
Repository URL: http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Paper47239.html
Citation: Green, T.R., Erskine, R.H., Ma, L. 2008. Spatial Features, Scaling and Simulation in Semi-Arid Agricultural Terrain. American Society of Agronomy Meetings. Paper No. 257-9.

Interpretive Summary: Spatial patterns of soils and vegetation in undulating terrain must be quantified to improve process understanding and differential management on agricultural lands. Spatial variance and patterns of crop yield are pronounced in rain-fed agricultural fields of eastern Colorado. Coupled processes of overland flow, infiltration, and multidimensional soil-water flow and storage affect the space-time scaling behavior of measured soil hydraulic properties, soil-water content, soil nutrient status, crop development and ultimate grain yield. Fractal geometry has been used to characterize the spatial organization of crop yield, near-surface (top 300 mm) soil moisture, steady infiltration, and topographic attributes computed from high-resolution elevation data. Hourly soil-water data have also been collected at different landscape positions and depths. These data are being used for numerical simulations of vertical process of flow and transport related to crop growth at different landscape positions. Examples from initial simulations of this system will be presented along with spatial field measurements. We argue that such agronomic systems comprise the “cream of the critical zone” of the western USA needed to sustain life under various climatic and economic pressures.

Technical Abstract: Spatial patterns of soils and vegetation in undulating terrain must be quantified to improve process understanding and differential management on agricultural lands. Spatial variance and patterns of crop yield are pronounced in rain-fed agricultural fields of eastern Colorado, where past and present transport of sediment by wind and water affect soil properties that vary with the terrain. Coupled processes of overland flow, infiltration, and multidimensional soil-water flow and storage affect the space-time scaling behavior of measured soil hydraulic properties, soil-water content, soil nutrient status, crop development and ultimate grain yield. Such spatial process interactions give rise to nested scales of variability. How do such complex patterns of variability in agricultural landscapes relate to vertical movement of water and chemicals (particularly nitrogen)? Improved process understanding and simulations are needed to identify when and where observed complexity cannot be explained by vertical processes. For example, soil variability alone may not explain observed patterns of soil water. To test this hypothesis, hourly soil-water contents have been measured with electrical capacitance sensors at different landscape positions and depths. Numerical simulations of this system, including dynamic plant growth with water and nutrient uptake, will be presented under both fallow and cropped conditions to explore combined soil, terrain and agronomic effects on water and nutrient transport. We assert that such agronomic systems comprise the “cream of the critical zone” of the western USA needed to sustain life under various climatic and economic pressures.

Last Modified: 9/2/2014
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