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Rainfall erosivity: An historical review

Mark A. Nearing, Shui-qing Yin, Pasquale Borrelli, Viktor O. Polyakov
Catena 2017 v.157 pp. 357-362
Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation, Universal Soil Loss Equation, energy, planning, rain, rain intensity, rainfall energy, rill erosion, runoff, storms, teams, variance
Rainfall erosivity is the capability of rainfall to cause soil loss from hillslopes by water. Modern definitions of rainfall erosivity began with the development of the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), where rainfall characteristics were statistically related to soil loss from thousands of plot-years of natural rainfall and runoff data. USLE erosivity combines the energy of the rainfall and the maximum continuous 30-min intensity in the event. Energy of rainfall is estimated as a function of the storm intensity through the rainfall event. The USLE erosivity has been used effectively for conservation planning purposes for more than 5 decades. When the USLE was replaced by the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE), a new energy-intensity equation was adopted. The new equation was not extensively tested prior to adoption, leads to significant under-predictions of erosivity, and was later replaced in RUSLE2. The RUSLE energy-intensity equation is no longer recommended by the RUSLE and RUSLE2 development teams. RUSLE2 also introduced the concept of erosivity density, which resulted in significant improvements in the calculations and mapping of rainfall erosivity. Calculations of erosivity as a whole are entirely based on rainfall intensities, and erosivity is an empirically-based index. The science indicates that the direct role of kinetic energy of rainfall as the driver of hillslope erosion in all cases is not warranted by the overall evidence, because many times the kinetic energy of raindrops is not the driving force behind rill erosion. The USLE erosivity empirically explains much of the variance in the soil loss from natural rainfall erosion plots.