Selecting and applying cesium-137 conversion models to estimate soil erosion rates in cultivated fields

Received for publication April 19, 2009. The fallout radionuclide cesium-137 (137Cs) has been successfully used in soil erosion studies worldwide. However, discrepancies often exist between the erosion rates estimated using various conversion models. As a result, there is often confusion in the use of the various models and in the interpretation of the data. Therefore, the objective of this study was to test the structural and parametrical uncertainties associated with four conversion models typically used in cultivated agricultural landscapes. For the structural uncertainties, the Soil Constituent Redistribution by Erosion Model (SCREM) was developed and used to simulate the redistribution of fallout 137Cs due to tillage and water erosion along a simple two-dimensional (horizontal and vertical) transect. The SCREM-predicted 137Cs inventories were then imported into the conversion models to estimate the erosion rates. The structural uncertainties of the conversion models were assessed based on the comparisons between the conversion-model-estimated erosion rates and the erosion rates determined or used in the SCREM. For the parametrical uncertainties, test runs were conducted by varying the values of the parameters used in the model, and the parametrical uncertainties were assessed based on the responsive changes of the estimated erosion rates. Our results suggest that: (i) the performance/accuracy of the conversion models was largely dependent on the relative contributions of water vs. tillage erosion; and (ii) the estimated erosion rates were highly sensitive to the input values of the reference 137Cs level, particle size correction factors and tillage depth. Guidelines were proposed to aid researchers in selecting and applying the conversion models under various situations common to agricultural landscapes.

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