Current and future assessments of soil erosion by water on the Tibetan Plateau based on RUSLE and CMIP5 climate models
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Soil erosion by water is accelerated by a warming climate and negatively impacts water security and ecological conservation. The Tibetan Plateau (TP) has experienced warming at a rate approximately twice that observed globally, and heavy precipitation events lead to an increased risk of erosion. In this study, we assessed current erosion on the TP and predicted potential soil erosion by water in 2050. The study was conducted in three steps. During the first step, we used the Revised Universal Soil Equation (RUSLE), publicly available data, and the most recent earth observations to derive estimates of annual erosion from 2002 to 2016 on the TP at 1-km resolution. During the second step, we used a multiple linear regression (MLR) model and a set of climatic covariates to predict rainfall erosivity on the TP in 2050. The MLR was used to establish the relationship between current rainfall erosivity data and a set of current climatic and other covariates. The coefficients of the MLR were generalised with climate covariates for 2050 derived from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) models to estimate rainfall erosivity in 2050. During the third step, soil erosion by water in 2050 was predicted using rainfall erosivity in 2050 and other erosion factors. The results show that the mean annual soil erosion rate on the TP under current conditions is 2.76 t ha-1 y-1, which is equivalent to an annual soil loss of 559.59 × 106 t. Our 2050 projections suggested that erosion on the TP will increase to 3.17 t ha-1 y-1 and 3.91 t ha-1 y-1 under conditions represented by RCP2.6 and RCP8.5, respectively. The current assessment and future prediction of soil erosion by water on the TP should be valuable for environment protection and soil conservation in this unique region and elsewhere.
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