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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #298875

Title: The development of U.S. soil erosion prediction and modeling

item LAFLEN, JOHN - Retired ARS Employee
item Flanagan, Dennis

Submitted to: World Association of Soil and Water Conservation (WASWAC), International Soil and Water Conservation Research (ISWCR)
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/15/2013
Publication Date: 12/1/2013
Citation: Laflen, J.M., Flanagan, D.C. 2013. The development of U.S. soil erosion prediction and modeling. World Association of Soil and Water Conservation (WASWAC), International Soil and Water Conservation Research (ISWCR). 1(2):1-11.

Interpretive Summary: Soil erosion by water is a continuing problem throughout the United States and the world, decreasing on-site agricultural productivity and off-site water quality. In order to combat this problem, research was needed to understand the causes and driving factors. Over 30 soil conservation experiment stations were established in the U.S. during the 1930’s to 1950’s, and data from research conducted there was used to provide recommendations for agricultural practices that would reduce or eliminate soil loss. Additionally, the long-term measurements of runoff and soil erosion from plots and small watersheds at these stations provided the database needed to develop the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), one of the greatest achievements in soil conservation research in the past 100 years. This paper describes the history of the USLE technology, as well as development of more recent state-of-the-art computer simulation modeling with the USDA Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model. WEPP is a physical process-based technology that can be applied to any location in the U.S., utilizing internet-based interfaces and databases. Example applications of WEPP are described, as well as future directions for erosion research and modeling. This work impacts farmers, ranchers, soil conservationists, and other involved with preserving the soil and water resources of this country.

Technical Abstract: Soil erosion prediction technology began over 70 years ago when Austin Zingg published a relationship between soil erosion (by water) and land slope and length, followed shortly by a relationship that expanded this equation to include conservation practices. But, it was nearly 20 years before this work’s expansion resulted in the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), perhaps the foremost achievement in soil erosion prediction in the last century. The USLE has increased in application and complexity, and its usefulness and limitations have led to the development of additional technologies and new science in soil erosion research and prediction. Main among these new technologies is the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model, which has helped to overcome many of the shortcomings of the USLE, and increased the scale over which erosion by water can be predicted. Areas of application of erosion prediction include almost all land types: urban, rural, cropland, forests, rangeland, and construction sites. Specialty applications of WEPP include prediction of radioactive material movement with soils at a superfund cleanup site, and near real-time daily estimation of soil erosion for the entire state of Iowa.