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National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory Looks Forward--and Back

By Don Comis
June 19, 2003

Erosion prediction technology is moving ahead as rapidly as computer technology. This rapid rate of change stood out recently as the Agricultural Research Service's National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory in West Lafayette, Ind., celebrated the 38th birthday of the first nationwide soil erosion-prediction equation. At about the same time, the laboratory released its latest update of a new erosion-prediction mapping interface software called GeoWEPP.

The software links the lab's newest generation erosion-prediction model, WEPP (Water Erosion Prediction Project), to the latest computer tools for mapping landscapes. GeoWEPP can download and use digital elevation data that is publicly available over the Internet, automatically delineate watershed characteristics, run WEPP model simulations and spatially display the results.

GeoWEPP was developed by ARS, Purdue University at West Lafayette and the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. ARS agricultural engineer Dennis Flanagan, at West Lafayette, and colleagues are developing Web-based approaches that will be easier to use and will not require expensive mapping software.

WEPP software is sophisticated, state-of-the-art technology that mimics water and erosion processes on crop-, range- and forest lands across small watersheds. WEPP is meant to replace earlier erosion-prediction technologies such as the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), first published by ARS scientists at West Lafayette in 1965. In 1995, a nationwide team of ARS scientists first publicly released WEPP in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management.

WEPP software is updated about once a year. Recent additions include a stand-alone Windows interface and a prototype Web-based interface. WEPP software developed by ARS is available via the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory's web page at:

Forest Service WEPP interfaces are available on the World Wide Web at: