Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE)

The USLE, developed by ARS scientists W. Wischmeier and D. Smith, has been the most widely accepted and utilized soil loss equation for over 30 years. Designed as a method to predict average annual soil loss caused by sheet and rill erosion, the USLE is often criticized for its lack of applications. While it can estimate long - term annual soil loss and guide conservationists on proper cropping, management, and conservation practices, it can not be applied to a specific year or a specific storm. The USLE is mature technology and enhancements to it are limited by the simple equation structure.

The USLE for estimating average annual soil erosion is:



Evaluating the factors in USLE:

R - the rainfall erosivity index

Most appropriately called the erosivity index, it is a statistic calculated from the annual summation of rainfall energy in every storm (correlates with raindrop size) times its maximum 30 - minute intensity. As expected, it varies geographically.

K - the soil erodibility factor

This factor quantifies the cohesive, or bonding character of a soil type and its resistance to dislodging and transport due to raindrop impact and overland flow.

LS - the topographic factor

Steeper slopes produce higher overland flow velocities. Longer slopes accumulate runoff from larger areas and also result in higher flow velocities. Thus, both result in increased erosion potential, but in a non - linear manner. For convenience L and S are frequently lumped into a single term.

C - the crop management factor

This factor is the ratio of soil loss from land cropped under specified conditions to corresponding loss under tilled, continuous fallow conditions. The most computationally complicated of USLE factors, it incorporates effects of: tillage management (dates and types), crops, seasonal erosivity index distribution, cropping history (rotation), and crop yield level (organic matter production potential).

P - the conservation practice factor

Practices included in this term are contouring, strip cropping (alternate crops on a given slope established on the contour), and terracing.

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