Retrospective assessment of dryland soil stability in relation to grazing and climate change

R.A. Washington-Allen, N.E. West, R.D. Ramsey, Debra Phillips, H.H. Shugart

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    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Accelerated soil erosion is an aspect of dryland degradation that is affected by repeated intense drought events and land management activities such as commercial livestock grazing. A soil stability index (SSI) that detects the erosion status and susceptibility of a landscape at the pixel level, i.e., stable, erosional, or depositional pixels, was derived from the spectral properties of an archived time series (from 1972 to 1997) of Landsat satellite data of a commercial ranch in northeastern Utah. The SSI was retrospectively validated with contemporary field measures of soil organic matter and erosion status that was surveyed by US federal land management agencies. Catastrophe theory provided the conceptual framework for retrospective assessment of the impact of commercial grazing and soil water availability on the SSI. The overall SSI trend was from an eroding landscape in the early drier 1970s towards stable conditions in the wetter mid-1980s and late 1990s. The landscape catastrophically shifted towards an extreme eroding state that was coincident with the “The Great North American Drought of 1988”. Periods of landscape stability and trajectories toward stability were coincident with extremely wet El Niño events. Commercial grazing had less correlation with soil stability than drought conditions. However, the landscape became more susceptible to erosion events under multiple droughts and grazing. Land managers now have nearly a year warning of El Niño and La Niña events and can adjust their management decisions according to predicted landscape erosion conditions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)101-121
    Number of pages21
    JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
    Issue number1-4
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Environmental Science(all)
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
    • Pollution


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