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Title: Modelling rainfall erosivity using the Weather Research and Forecasting model
Author: Nissan, Hannah
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2013
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Soil erosion is a serious threat to agricultural productivity and the sustainable provision of food to a growing world population. Current erosion models employ simplistic treatments of rainfall. This thesis presents a new approach to erosion modelling, using the Weather Research and Forecasting model to simulate rainfall erosivity, an indicator of the erosive capacity of rain. Rainfall erosivity is modelled in the Caucasus region, an area vulnerable to erosion and climate change pressures. Low intensity rainfall (below 2 mmhr^{-1}) is found to contribute significantly to erosivity (23%), contrary to common assumptions. An exponential dependence of the fraction of erosivity from light rain on the proportion of light rain is found. Erosion models focus on storms, but results suggest that storm-based calculations may exclude up to 30% of erosivity. In the Universal Soil Loss Equation, this does not lead to errors in long term soil loss but could cause an underestimation of event erosion. Rainfall kinetic energy flux is an important variable in erosion prediction and is routinely parameterised from intensity. Here this is dynamically simulated from basic physics in a cloud resolving model, using four microphysics schemes. Results are within the range of observations and capture the observed variability in kinetic energy for a given intensity, where current methods fail. Large raindrops are shown to contribute disproportionately to total kinetic energy, and also to surface precipitation, compared with their number. No connection has hitherto been drawn between aerosols and soil erosion. The effect of aerosols on rainfall erosivity is investigated in a cloud resolving model. Aerosols can either enhance or suppress precipitation. In both these cases the response of erosivity to a rise in aerosols is in the same direction as, but amplified beyond, the change in total rain. It is also shown that aerosols can influence erosivity by changing raindrop sizes. These results suggest that anthropogenic aerosol emissions affect erosivity and thus may have important consequences for agricultural productivity.
Supervisor: Toumi, Ralf Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available