Submitted to: 25 Years of Assessment of Erosion
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/1/2003
Publication Date: 9/22/2003
Citation: Norton, L.D., Flanagan, D.C., Huang, C. Research of soil erosion by water: A historical perspective from the USA. 25 Years of Assesment of Erosion. 2003. p. 11-15.
Technical Abstract: Soil erosion by both wind and water is still a major problem in many parts of the world even though efforts have been made to control or minimize its effects. In the USA, much research began during the dust bowl years in the 1930's. Serious wind erosion events occurred after significant droughts, and the skies of Washington D.C. were filled with dust and the sky darkened from erosion in the central plains. As a result, the US Congress funded the "Soil Erosion Service" in 1933 to address the problem and help farmers to better manage their land. Later the name was changed to the "Soil Conservation Service" and then the "Natural Resources Conservation Service." Many research plots were established in the 1930's and 1940's at federal experiment stations and university research sites to measure soil erosion as a function of slope length, slope steepness, and management practices for a range of soils and climatic conditions. In 1954, the USDA-ARS National Runoff and Soil Loss Data Center was created at Purdue University under the direction of statistician Walter Wischmeier. The Center was to be the central location for the soil erosion data that had been collected across the U.S. since the 1930's, and was to utilize this data in further development of erosion prediction equations. Wischmeier took ten thousand plot years of collected data and developed the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), which was first introduced at the 1960 World Congress of Soil Science in Madison, Wisconsin, and published in complete form in USDA Agriculture Handbook 282 in 1965. Since then, the USLE has been widely used for many purposes and in its revised form still is the basis for evaluating the erosion potential of lands in US government conservation programs. In large part due to the tremendous impact of the USLE and associated research by the ARS unit at Purdue University, the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory (NSERL) was established to be the focal point of federal erosion research due to water in the USA. Since its dedication in 1982, the NSERL's research program has provided the basic science needed to provide improved predictions of soil erosion potential and to provide new and improved methods to control erosion. Experiments have been conducted at all levels from the molecular scale to large watersheds. The laboratory has been instrumental in helping other institutions with rainfall simulator technology, and with development of laser scanners for creation of high precision digital elevation models of soil surfaces. The basic research has led to the development of new technologies to better identify and target remediation for lands that are highly erodible or susceptible to erosion. Cooperative efforts in a large nationwide modeling effort has led to the develoment of the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model which is available for application to hillslope profiles and small watersheds through a variety of interface software (stand-alone Windows program, Web-browser based, GIS-linked interface). Much of the major impact of the NSERL through the years has been through assisting other researchers and in technology transfer of new and innovative strategies for controlling erosion. Farmers have quickly adopted many of the technologies and are utilizing them on their lands to control erosion while maintaining a profitable operation. Through the understanding of basic science and applying it in practical field applications, the NSERL has been successful in helping to protect the environment and assisting all society. The economic consequences and impacts of this research program by the many NSERL scientists over the years are extremely significant and likely beyond measure. This research helps provide for a sustainable agriculture that is environmental friendly and globally important.