Impacts of Climate Change on Soil Erosion in the Great Lakes Region

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

The U.S. Great Lakes region suffers from water quality degradation caused by agricultural nonpoint source pollution (e.g., from runoff and soil erosion).  Understanding how climate change will impact future soil loss will allow areas susceptible to erosion to be identified and more sustainably managed.

Climate change studies project increases in both precipitation and air temperatures for the Great Lakes region. By the end of the 21st century, annual precipitation is projected to increase up to 20% across the region with precipitation increases in both winter and spring and decreases in summer. Mean annual air temperature is projected to increase by 2.2 °C to 5.8 °C with more frequently occurring extreme heat events and more common heavy precipitation events.

A study led by graduate student Lili Wang, with professor Keith Cherkauer (Agricultural and Biological Engineering) and Dr. Dennis Flanagan (USDA-Agricultural Research Service, National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory), examined the predicted runoff and soil loss to be expected under projected climate change conditions for the entire Great Lakes region. A macroscale soil erosion model, the Variable Infiltration Capacity—Water Erosion Prediction Project (VIC-WEPP) model was used to estimate soil loss under three climate change scenarios (A2, A1B, B1) using projections from three general circulation models (GFDL, PCM, HadCM3) for the Great Lakes region from 2000 to 2100.

Their findings suggest that to reduce soil loss in the Great Lakes region, soil conservation efforts should focus on reducing the impacts of increased precipitation on cropland and grassland areas in the fall and winter seasons. In future analyses, land cover changes need to be considered in soil loss prediction models and soil conservation strategies, as soil loss will increase at a greater rate if forestland is replaced with grassland in the northern study domain, and grassland is replaced with cropland in the southern reaches of this study.

Wang, L., K. A. Cherkauer and D. C. Flanagan (2018). Impacts of Climate Change on Soil Erosion in the Great Lakes Region. Water 10(6), 715.

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