Improving the global applicability of the RUSLE model – adjustment of the topographical and rainfall erosivity factors
- 1Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg 20146, Germany
- 2Université catholique de Louvain, TECLIM – Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Abstract. Large uncertainties exist in estimated rates and the extent of soil erosion by surface runoff on a global scale. This limits our understanding of the global impact that soil erosion might have on agriculture and climate. The Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model is, due to its simple structure and empirical basis, a frequently used tool in estimating average annual soil erosion rates at regional to global scales. However, large spatial-scale applications often rely on coarse data input, which is not compatible with the local scale on which the model is parameterized. Our study aims at providing the first steps in improving the global applicability of the RUSLE model in order to derive more accurate global soil erosion rates.
We adjusted the topographical and rainfall erosivity factors of the RUSLE model and compared the resulting erosion rates to extensive empirical databases from the USA and Europe. By scaling the slope according to the fractal method to adjust the topographical factor, we managed to improve the topographical detail in a coarse resolution global digital elevation model.
Applying the linear multiple regression method to adjust rainfall erosivity for various climate zones resulted in values that compared well to high resolution erosivity data for different regions. However, this method needs to be extended to tropical climates, for which erosivity is biased due to the lack of high resolution erosivity data.
After applying the adjusted and the unadjusted versions of the RUSLE model on a global scale we find that the adjusted version shows a global higher mean erosion rate and more variability in the erosion rates. Comparison to empirical data sets of the USA and Europe shows that the adjusted RUSLE model is able to decrease the very high erosion rates in hilly regions that are observed in the unadjusted RUSLE model results. Although there are still some regional differences with the empirical databases, the results indicate that the methods used here seem to be a promising tool in improving the applicability of the RUSLE model at coarse resolution on a global scale.