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Location: National Soil Erosion Research

Title: Impacts of climate change on soil erosion in the Great Lakes Region

item Flanagan, Dennis

Submitted to: Water
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/21/2018
Publication Date: 6/1/2018
Citation: Wang, L., Cherkauer, K.A., Flanagan, D.C. 2018. Impacts of climate change on soil erosion in the Great Lakes Region. Water. 10(6):715. doi:

Interpretive Summary: The Great Lakes region of North America is home to over 50 million people, and is also a very productive agricultural area. Recent projections of changes in climate, particularly increasing air temperatures and changes in precipitation depths, frequency of occurrence, and intensities, have been a cause for concern, both in terms of how these changes may affect crop growth as well as soil erosion and sediment and pollutant losses. Erosion prediction computer simulation models are often used in research studies to determine the effects of different climates, soils, topography, and land management on soil loss. In this study, the coupled VIC-WEPP model was used to examine the effects of predicted changes in climate in the Great Lakes region of the United States on soil loss during three future time periods: the 2030s, 2060s, and 2090s. Over the entire region, average annual soil loss is predicted to decrease during all three future periods. However, we also found that location within the region had a large effect – and that at some locations and during some time periods erosion may decrease due to increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation, while at others it may increase due to increased rainfall and/or increased rainfall intensities. This research impacts other scientists, extension staff, conservation agency personnel, and farmers in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. Information on the potential effects of future climate can allow for better planning and adaptation of agricultural production systems and soil conservation practices.

Technical Abstract: Quantifying changes in potential soil erosion under projections of changing climate is important for the sustainable management of land resources, as soil loss estimates will be helpful in identifying areas susceptible to erosion, targeting future erosion control efforts, and/or conservation funding. Therefore, the macro-scale Variable Infiltration Capacity—Water Erosion Prediction Project (VIC-WEPP) soil erosion model was utilized to quantify soil losses under three climate change scenarios (A2, A1B, B1) using projections from three general circulation models (GFDL, PCM, HadCM3) for the Great Lakes region from 2000 to 2100. Soil loss was predicted to decrease throughout three future periods (2030s, 2060s, and 2090s) by 0.4–0.7 ton ha-1 year-1 (4.99–23.2%) relative to the historical period (2000s) with predicted air temperature increases of 0.68–4.34 °C and precipitation increases of 1.74–63.7 mm year-1 (0.23–8.6%). In the forested northern study domain erosion kept increasing by 0.01–0.18 ton ha-1 year-1 over three future periods due to increased precipitation of 9.7–68.3 mm year-1. The southern study domain covered by cropland and grassland had predicted soil loss decreases of 0.01–1.43 ton ha-1 year-1 due to air temperature increases of 1.75–4.79 °C and reduced precipitation in the summer. Fall and winter had greater risks of increased soil loss based on predictions for these two seasons under the A2 scenario, with the greatest cropland soil loss increase due to increased fall precipitation, and combined effects of increases in both precipitation and air temperature in the winter. Fall was identified with higher risks under the A1B scenario, while spring and summer were identified with the greatest risk of increased soil losses under the B1 scenario due to the increases in both precipitation and air temperature.