Risk Assessment of Erosion from Concentrated Flow on Rangelands Using Overland Flow Distribution and Shear Stress Partitioning

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Erosion rates of overland flow on rangelands tend to be relatively low, but under certain conditions where flow is concentrated, soil loss can be significant. Therefore, a rangeland site can be highly vulnerable to soil erosion where overland flow is likely to concentrate and exert high shear stress on soil grains. This concept is commonly applied in cropland and wildland soil erosion modeling using predictions of flow effective shear stress (shear stress applied on soil grains). However, historical approaches to partition shear stress in erosion models are computationally complex and require extensive parameterization. Furthermore, most models are not capable of predicting the conditions in which concentrated flow occurs on rangelands. In this study, we investigated the rangelands conditions at which overland flow is more likely to become concentrated and developed equations for partitioning the shear stress of concentrated flow on rangelands. A logistic equation was developed to estimate the probability of overland flow to become concentrated. Total shear stress of rangeland overland flow was partitioned into components exerted on soil, vegetation, and rock cover using field experimental data. In addition, we investigated the vegetation cover limit at which the effective shear stress component is substantially reduced, limiting the erosion rate. The results from the partitioning equations show that shear stress exerted on soil grains was relatively small in sheet flow. Shear stress exerted on soil grains in concentrated flow was significantly higher when bare soil exceeded 60% of the total surface area but decreased significantly when the bare soil area was less than 25% or when the plant base cover exceeded 20%. These percentages could be used as relative measures of hydrologic recovery for disturbed rangelands or as triggers that indicate a site is crossing a threshold beyond which soil erosion might accelerate due to the high effective shear stress.


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