Erosion and Sediment Control

Poster Presentation

Climate change effects on soil erodibility

Tuesday, February 13
1:30 PM - 3:30 PM


Level of Presentation: All: Suitable for a broad audience

This will be a poster presentation displaying research on the effects of a changing climate on the susceptibility of soil to erosion. To successfully implement erosion control measures, it is necessary to identify the active erosion processes and how these processes may change in the future.

Numerous reports and assessments have concluded that our climate has been changing over the last century and have predicted that the climate will continue to change over the 21st century (1,2,3). Climate change will lead to increased global surface temperatures, more frequent extreme temperatures and heatwaves, and more frequent extreme precipitation events (2,3). These changes have been predicted to increase soil erosion rates, with major implications for food production, land management practices and off-side impacts, such as pollution of waterbodies (4,5). These consequences add to the economic costs of soil erosion including the investment needed to compensate for productivity losses and damage to infrastructure (6). To effectively specify, design and select erosion control measures, it is critical to recognise the processes responsible for erosion (and how they may change in the future). With this knowledge, the most suitable erosion control products can be implemented successfully.

Currently, estimates of future soil erosion rates consider the implications of increased climatic erosivity, caused by more frequent extreme precipitation events and higher rainfall intensities (7,8,9). While some studies consider the influence of land use change and crop cover (10,11), the intrinsic properties of soil, such as soil structure, which affect soil erodibility have largely been overlooked. Soil erodibility is the susceptibility of soil to erosion and is controlled primarily by soil texture and structure. Soil structure is highly dependent on the stability of soil aggregates, which are formed through physical, chemical and biological processes. These processes are influenced by environmental conditions, meaning that climate change could alter the stability of the soil itself.

This ongoing research is investigating how changing climatic conditions alter soil aggregate stabilisation processes and the resulting impacts on aggregate stability, soil structure and erodibility. The project outcomes will provide evidence to construct a mechanistic framework to interpret how aggregate stability is affected by changing climatic conditions. This framework can then be upscaled to improve our scientific understanding of erosion processes and how soil erodibility can change under future climate scenarios. A greater understanding of the effects of a changing climate on soil erodibility will inform better predictions of future soil erosion rates and better targeting of soil erosion control measures.

1. Jenkins, G.J., Perry, M.C., and Prior, M.J. (2008) The climate of the United Kingdom and recent trends. Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK
2. IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report: Contribution of Working Groups I; II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report. Edited by Core Writing Team; R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer. Geneva, Switzerland.
3. USGCRP (2017) Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp.
4. Nearing, M. A., Pruski, F. F. and O’Neal, M. R. (2004) ‘Expected climate change impacts on soil erosion rates: A review’, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 59(1), pp. 43–50.
5. SWCS (2003) Conservation implications of Climate Change: Soil erosion and runoff from cropland. Iowa.
6. Pimentel, D., Harvey, C., Resosudarmo, P., Sinclair, K., Kurz, D., McNair, M., Crist, S., Shpritz, L., Fitton, L., Saffouri, R. and Blair, R. (1995) Environmental and economic costs of soil erosion and conservation benefits. Science-AAAS-Weekly Paper Edition, 267 (5201), pp.1117-1122.
7. Favis-Mortlock, D. T. and Boardman, J. (1995) ‘Nonlinear responses of soil-erosion to climate change: a modeling study on the UK South Downs’, Catena, 25(1–4), pp. 365–387.
8. Pruski, F. F. and Nearing, M. A. (2002) ‘Runoff and soil loss responses to changes in precipitation: A computer simulation study’, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, pp. 7–16.
9. Segura, C., Sun, G., McNulty, S. and Zhang, Y. (2014) ‘Potential impacts of climate change on soil erosion vulnerability across the conterminous United States’, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 69(2), pp. 171–181.
10. Zhang, X. C. and Liu, W. Z. (2005) ‘Simulating potential response of hydrology, soil erosion, and crop productivity to climate change in Changwu tableland region on the Loess Plateau of China’, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 131(3–4), pp. 127–142.
11. Mullan, D. (2013) ‘Soil erosion under the impacts of future climate change: Assessing the statistical significance of future changes and the potential on-site and off-site problems’, Catena, 109, pp. 234–246..

Learning Objectives:

Target Audience: Academic,Consultant,Engineer,Government Agency

Emily Dowdeswell

PhD Student Researcher
Cranfield University

Emily Dowdeswell is currently a PhD Student Researcher at Cranfield University. Emily graduated with a BSc in Geography from the University of Leicester in 2014. Emily then continued studying at the University of Bedfordshire, gaining a Masters in Research with the submission of the thesis ‘Determining the effects of temperature on species interactions: a qPCR approach’. Now at Cranfield the aim of her research is to investigate the effects of climate change on soil erosion. Changes to temperature and precipitation regimes will alter the erosivity of rainfall (direct impact), and will affect the stability of soil aggregates - particles that bind to each other - and thus the susceptibility of soil to erosion (indirect impact). Numerous properties of the soil are responsible for aggregate stability, but their interactions are poorly understood. Through experiments in Cranfield’s erosion laboratories, the project will uncover these interactions and feedbacks to help better protect crucial soil resources in the future.

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