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Rangeland hydrology and erosion model (RHEM) enhancements for applications on disturbed rangelands

Al‐Hamdan, Osama Z., Hernandez, Mariano, Pierson, Frederick B., Nearing, Mark A., Williams, C. Jason, Stone, Jeffrey J., Boll, Jan, Weltz, Mark A.
Hydrological processes 2015 v.29 no.3 pp. 445-457
Agricultural Research Service, equations, erodibility, overland flow, prediction, rain, rainfall simulation, rangelands, risk, runoff, sediments, soil erosion models, soil texture, streams, trees, vegetation cover, woody plants
The rangeland hydrology and erosion model (RHEM) is a new process‐based model developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service. RHEM was initially developed for functionally intact rangelands where concentrated flow erosion is minimal and most soil loss occurs by rain splash and sheet flow erosion processes. Disturbance such as fire or woody plant encroachment can amplify overland flow erosion by increasing the likelihood of concentrated flow formation. In this study, we enhanced RHEM applications on disturbed rangelands by using a new approach for the prediction and parameterization of concentrated flow erosion. The new approach was conceptualized based on observations and results of experimental studies on rangelands disturbed by fire and/or by tree encroachment. The sediment detachment rate for concentrated flow was calculated using soil erodibility and hydraulic (flow width and stream power) parameters. Concentrated flow width was calculated based on flow discharge and slope using an equation developed specifically for disturbed rangelands. Soil detachment was assumed to begin with concentrated flow initiation. A dynamic erodibility concept was applied where concentrated flow erodibility was set to decrease exponentially during a run‐off event because of declining sediment availability. Erodibility was estimated using an empirical parameterization equation as a function of vegetation cover and surface soil texture. A dynamic partial differential sediment continuity equation was used to model the total detachment rate of concentrated flow and rain splash and sheet flow. The enhanced version of the model was evaluated against rainfall simulation data for three different sites that exhibit some degree of disturbance by fire and/or by tree encroachment. The coefficient of determination (R²) and Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency were 0.78 and 0.71, respectively, which indicates the capability of the model using the new approach for predicting soil loss on disturbed rangeland. By using the new concentrated flow modelling approach, the model was enhanced to be a practical tool that utilizes readily available vegetation and soil data for quantifying erosion and assessing erosion risk following rangeland disturbance. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.