Modeling Earth Systems and Environment

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 1229–1244 | Cite as

Modelling surface geomorphic processes using the RUSLE and specific stream power in a GIS framework, NE Peloponnese, Greece

  • Pamela E. TetfordEmail author
  • Joseph R. Desloges
  • Dimitri Nakassis
Original Article


Mediterranean regions, with climate variability and long histories of human disturbance, are particularly vulnerable to soil erosion and sediment redistribution. This study examines surface soil stability and stream energy of the 243 km2 Inachos River watershed in the northeast Peloponnese, Greece. This mountainous, semi-arid Mediterranean region has an extensive history of human activity. Soil loss and stream energy are each quantified by applying the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) using the Unit Stream Power Erosion Deposition (USPED) method and the specific stream power approach to the main river channels. These models are used to indicate the spatial variability in geomorphic activity. Results show an average soil loss for the Inachos River catchment of 15.0 t ha−1 a−1, exceeding the rate of soil formation. Values range from nil in low gradient environments to 4287 t ha−1 a−1 in steep, mountainous regions. Gradient and rainfall erosivity are the primary factors. High specific stream power in the upper watershed exceeds 17,100 W m−2, resulting in the mobilization of sediment into channelized debris flows that transport sediment from the steep hillslopes. Episodic high-magnitude precipitation events promote the longitudinal connectivity of the catchment. The long occupation and agricultural history, extending as far back as Neolithic time, has accelerated downslope sediment transport.


RUSLE USPED Specific stream power Soil erosion GIS Mediterranean 



The authors wish to thank the support of the Western Argolid Regional Project (especially Drs. Sarah James, Scott Gallimore and William Caraher), the Canadian Institute in Greece, and the British School at Athens. Fieldwork for this project was undertaken with permits granted by the Hellenic Institute of Geology & Mineral Exploration (IGME); we thank them and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Argolida for their assistance. This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and research funding from the University of Toronto.


  1. Anagnostoudi Th, Papadopoulou S, Ktenas D, Gkadri E, Pyliotis I, Kokkidis N, Panagiotopoulos V (2010) The Olvios, Rethis and Inachos drainage system evolution and human activities influence of their future evolution. Proceedings of the 12th international congress of the geological society of Greece, PatrasGoogle Scholar
  2. Arhonditsis G, Giourga C, Loumou A, Koulouri M (2002) Quantitative assessment of agricultural runoff and soil erosion using mathematical modeling: applications in the Mediterranean region. Environ Manag 30(3):434–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnoldus HMJ (1980) An approximation of the rainfall factor in the universal soil loss equation. In: De Boodt M, Gabriels D (eds) Assessment of erosion. Wiley, Chichester, pp 127–132Google Scholar
  4. Church M, Ferguson RI (2015) Morphodynamics: rivers beyond steady state. Water Resour Res 51:1883–1897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Demirci A, Karaburum A (2012) Estimation of soil erosion using RUSLE in a GIS framework: a case study in the Buyukcekmece Lake watershed, northwest Turkey. Environ Earth Sci 66:903–913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Eaton BC (2013) Hydraulic geometry: Empirical investigations and theoretical approaches. In: Shroder J, Wohl E (eds) Treatise on geomorphology. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 313–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eaton BC, Church M (2011) A rational sediment transport scaling relation based on dimensionless stream power. Earth Surf Process Landforms 36:901–910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Efthimiou N (2016) Performance of the RUSLE in Mediterranean mountainous catchments. Environ Process 3:1001–1019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Farhan Y, Nawaiseh S (2015) Spatial assessment of soil erosion risk using RUSLE and GIS techniques. Environ Earth Sci 74:4649–4669CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ferguson RI (2005) Estimating critical stream power for bedload transport calculations in gravel-bed rivers. Geomorphology 70:33–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ferreira V, Panagopoulos T (2014) Seasonality of soil erosion under Mediterranean conditions at the Alqueva Dam watershed. Environ Manag 54:67–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ferro V, Porto P (1999) A comparative study of rainfall erosivity estimation for southern Italy and southeastern Australia. Hydrol Sci 44(1):3–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ferro V, Giordano F, Iovino M (1991) Isoerosivity and erosion risk map for Sicily. Hydrol Sci 36(6):549–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flint JJ (1974) Stream gradient as a function of order, magnitude and discharge. Water Resour Res 10(5):969–973CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Flores AN, Bledsoe BP, Cuhaciyan CO. Wohl EE (2006) Channel-reach morphology dependence on energy, scale, and hydroclimatic processes with implications for prediction using geospatial data. Water Resour Res 42:W06412. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fuchs M (2007) An assessment of human versus climatic impacts on Holocene soil erosion in NE Peloponnese, Greece. Quatern Res 67:349–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fuchs M, Lang A, Wagner GA (2004) The history of Holocene soil erosion in the Phlious Basin, NE Peloponnese Greece, based on optical dating. Holocene 14(3):334–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gaki-Papanastasiou K (1991) The geomorphological development of the wider region of the Argolic plain in the Quaternary (Doctoral dissertation). National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, AthensGoogle Scholar
  19. Garcia Rodriguez JL, Gimenez Suarez MC (2012) Methodology for estimating the topographic factor LS of RUSLE3D and USPED using GIS. Geomorphology 175–176:98–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gouma M, van Wijngaarden GJ, Soetens S (2011) Assessing the effects of geomophological processes on archaeological densities: a GIS case study on Zakynthos Island, Greece. J Archaeolog Sci 38:2714–2725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grabowski RC, Surian N, Gurnell AM (2014) Characterizing geomorphological change to support sustainable river restoration and management. WIREs Water 1:483–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Helenic National Meteorological Service (2016) Climatology (Data file). Accessed 15 Aug 2016
  23. Hill J, Schutt B (2000) Mapping complex patterns of erosion and stability in dry Mediterranean ecosystems. Remote Sens Environ 74:557–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hydroscope (2016) Hydrological data (data file). Accessed 7 Sept 2016
  25. Jaeger KL, Montgomery DR, Bolton SM (2007) Channel and perennial flow initiation in headwater streams: management implications of variability in source-area size. Environ Manag 40:775–786CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jain V, Preston N, Fryirs K, Brierley G (2006) Comparative assessment of three approaches for deriving stream power plots along long profiles in the upper Hunter river catchment, New South Wales, Australia. Geomorphology 74:297–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kinnell PIA (2015) Geographic variation of USLE/RUSLE erosivity and erodibility factors. J Hydrol Eng 20(6):C4014012. Accessed 15 Sept 2016CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Knighton AD (1999) Downstream variation in stream power. Geomorphology 29:293–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kouli M, Soupios P, Vallianatos F (2009) Soil erosion prediction using the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE) in a GIS framework, Chania, Northwestern Crete, Greece. Environ Geol 57:483–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Marchamalo M, Hooke JM, Sandercock PJ (2016) Flow and sediment connectivity in semi-arid landscapes in SE Spain: patterns and controls. Land Degrad Dev 27:1032–1044CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mexia K (2015) Geoarchaeological observation in the wider area of Nemea using airphotos and GIS. Earth Sci Inf 8:269–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change (2011) Consultation project management of water resources—Rema Argolic Gulf (GR31). Accessed 25 Oct 2016
  33. National Cadastre and Mapping Agency SA (2016) Digital elevation model—tiled dataset (digital file). National Cadastre and Mapping Agency SA, AthensGoogle Scholar
  34. Nicoll T, Brierley G (2017) Within-catchment variability in landscape connectivity measures in the Garang catchment, upper Yellow River. Geomorphology 277:197–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oliveira AH, da Silva MA, Silva MLN, Curi N, Neto GK, de Freitas DAF (2013) Development of topographic factor modeling for application in soil erosion models. In: Hernandez Soriano MC (ed) Soil processes and current trends in quality assessment. InTech.
  36. Panagos P, Borrelli P, Meusburger K, van der Zanden EH, Poesen J, Alewell C (2015a) Modelling the effect of support practices (P-factor) on the reduction of soil erosion by water at European Scale. Environ Sci Policy 51:23–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Panagos P, Borrelli P, Poesen J, Ballabio C, Lugato E, Meusburger K, Montanarella L, Alewell C (2015b) The new assessment of soil loss by water erosion in Europe. Environ Sci Policy 54:438–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Parker C, Clifford NJ, Thorne CR (2011) Understanding the influence of slope on the threshold of coarse grain motion. Geomorphology 126:51–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Phillips RTJ, Desloges JR (2014) Glacially conditioned specific stream powers in low-relief river catchments of the southern Laurentian Great Lakes. Geomorphology 206:271–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Poeppl RE, Keesstra SD, Maroulis J (2017) A conceptual connectivity framework for understanding geomorphic change in human-impacted fluvial systems. Geomorphology 277:237–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Poesen JWA, Hooke JM (1997) Erosion, flooding and channel management in Mediterranean environments of southern Europe. Prog Phys Geogr 21(2):157–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pope KO, van Andel TH (1984) Late Quaternary alluviation and soil formation in the southern Argolid: its history, causes and archaeological implications. J Archaeol Sci 11:281–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Reinfelds I, Cohen T, Batten P, Brierley G (2004) Assessment of downstream trends in channel gradient, total and specific stream power: a GIS approach. Geomorphology 60:403–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Renard KG, Foster GR, Weesies GA, McCool DK, Yoder DC (1997) Predicting soil erosion by water: a guide to conservation planning with the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE). USDA agriculture handbook no. 703. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  45. Saygun SD, Ozcan AU, Basaran M, Timur OB, Dolarslan M, Yilman FE, Erpul G (2014) The combined RUSLE/SDR approach integrated with GIS and geostatics to estimate annual sediment flux rates in the semi-arid catchment, Turkey. Environ Earth Sci 71:1605–1618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Spaeth KE Jr, Pierson FB Jr, Weltz MA, Blackburn WH (2003) Evaluation of USLE and RUSLE estimated soil loss on rangeland. J Range Manag 56(3):234–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Syvitski JPM (2003) Supply and flux of sediment along hydrological pathways: research for the 21st century. Glob Planet Change 39:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Terranova O, Coscarelli LA, Iaquinta CP (2009) Soil erosion risk scenarios in the Mediterranean environment using RUSLE and GIS: an application model for Calabria (southern Italy). Geomorphology 112:28–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thayer JB, Phillips RTJ, Desloges JR (2016) Downstream channel adjustment in a low-relief, glacially conditioned watershed. Geomorphology 262:101–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tsara M, Kosmas C, Kirkby MJ, Kosma D, Yassoglou N (2005) An evaluation of the PESERA soil erosion model and its application to a case study in Zakynthos, Greece. Soil Use Manag 21:377–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. van Andel TH, Zangger E, Perissoratis C (1990) Quaternary trangressive/regressive cycles in the Gulf of Argos, Greece. Quat Res 34:317–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. van Andel TH, Zangger E, Demitrack A (2010) Land use and soil erosion in prehistoric and historical Greece. J Field Archaeol 17:379–396Google Scholar
  53. Vocal Ferencevic M, Ashmore P (2012) Creating and evaluating digital elevation model-based stream-power map as a stream assessment tool. River Res Appl 28:1394–1416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Williams GP (1978) Bank-full discharge of rivers. Water Resour Res 14(6):1141–1154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wischmeier WH, Smith DD (1965) Predicting rainfall-erosion losses from cropland east of the Rocky Mountains. USDA agriculture handbook no. 282. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, p 47Google Scholar
  56. Wischmeier WH, Smith DD (1978) Predicting rainfall erosion losses. A guide to conservation planning. USDA agriculture handbook no. 537. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, p 58Google Scholar
  57. Wohl E, Rathburn S, Chignell S, Garrett K, Laurel D, Livers B, Patton A, Records R, Richards M, Schook DM, Suffin NA, Wegener P (2017) Mapping longitudinal stream connectivity in the Northern St. Vrain Creek watershed of Colorado. Geomorphology 277:171–181Google Scholar
  58. Wolman MG (1954) A method of sampling course river-bed material. Trans Am Geophys Union 35(6):951–956CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zangger E (1993) The geoarchaeology of the Argolid. Gebr. Mann., BerlinGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pamela E. Tetford
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joseph R. Desloges
    • 1
  • Dimitri Nakassis
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of ClassicsUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

Personalised recommendations