Modeling climate change effects on runoff and soil erosion in southeastern Arizona rangelands and implications for mitigation with conservation practices

Y. Zhang, M. Hernandez, E. Anson, M. A. Nearing, H. Wei, J. J. Stone, P. Heilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations

Abstract

Climate change is expected to impact runoff and soil erosion on rangelands in the western United States. This study evaluated the potential impacts of precipitation changes on soil erosion and surface runoff in southeastern Arizona using seven General Circulation Model (GCM) models with three emission scenarios for the 2050s and 2090s. A spatial-temporal downscaling process was used to generate daily precipitation series from GCM outputs for runoff and erosion modeling with the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model (RHEM). Results were compared to 1970 through 1999 conditions. Our results suggested no significant changes in annual precipitation across the region under the three emission scenarios, while projected mean annual runoff and soil loss increased significantly, ranging from 79% to 92% and from 127% to 157%, respectively, relative to 1970 to 1999. At the seasonal scale, though an increase of summer precipitation and a reduction of winter precipitation were projected, both runoff and soil loss increased significantly for both periods. The dramatic increases in runoff and soil loss were attributed to the increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events in the study area. Predicted soil loss from shrub communities increased more than that predicted for other plant communities under the three emission scenarios. Future increases in runoff and soil erosion may accelerate the transitions of grassland to shrublands or to more eroded states due to the positive vegetation-erosion feedback. Rangeland management policies and practices should consider these changes and adapt to the increased risk of runoff and soil erosion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-405
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
Volume67
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • General Circulation Model
  • Management practices
  • Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model
  • Rangelands
  • Soil erosion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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