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Effect of Topographic Characteristics on Compound Topographic Index for Identification of Gully Channel Initiation Locations

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 56(2): 523-537. (doi: 10.13031/2013.42673) @2013
Authors:   Henrique G. Momm, Ronald L. Bingner, Robert R. Wells, James R. Rigby, Seth M. Dabney
Keywords:   Compound topographic index DEM resolution Gully erosion Random field simulation Watershed models.

Sediment loads from gully erosion contribute to water quality problems, reduction in crop productivity by removal of nutrient-rich topsoil, and damage to downstream ecosystems. The identification of areas with high potential for gully channel development is often performed using spatially derived stream power estimates from second-order topographic indices, such as the compound topographic index (CTI). The utilization of CTI to identify where gullies develop is affected by field and local topographic characteristics and DEM resolution. In this study, the effect of overall terrain slope, local relief variance, and raster grid cell size on CTI cumulative distribution values was investigated using theoretical and observed catchment methodology. In the theoretical analysis, stochastic methods were used to generate simulated catchments to quantify the influence of overall terrain slope, local relief variance, and raster grid cell size (each considered individually). The observed methodology used three sites with distinct topographic characteristics, measured gully channels, and high-resolution topographic information. Raster grids for the three observed study sites were generated at varying raster grid cell sizes. Critical CTI values were determined through comparison of measured gully thalwegs with threshold CTI raster grids of the observed watersheds at different resolutions. Results from the theoretical investigation indicate that CTI values were linearly influenced by changes in relief variance and overall slope, while variations in raster grid cell size caused an inverse power variation in CTI values. In addition, variations in raster grid cell size, produced changes in cumulative distributions of the top 0.1% CTI values. The use of normalized CTI values (CTIn) produced merged cumulative distribution curves when varying overall slope, terrain relief variance, and to a lesser degree DEM resolution. Similar findings were obtained from the analysis of observed catchments. When DEM resolution varied, the differences in critical CTIn values in the same field were significantly reduced when compared to original critical CTI values, although differences were not fully eliminated. Normalization of the CTI cumulative distributions improved comparisons between different sites with distinct drainage area sizes and topographic characteristics, providing a possible alternative for investigations of large watersheds with more than one topographic characteristic. Results suggest that a normalized critical CTI between 1 and 2 could be used for the identification of areas with high potential for gully development. Knowing where gullies develop is important in understanding the effect of conservation practices on soil erosion through the use of field-scale and watershed-scale simulation models. Effective watershed management plans depend on this information to target the placement of conservation practices for the efficient use of available resources.

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