Modelling water erosion in the Sahel: application of a physically based soil erosion model in a gentle sloping environment

S.M. Visser, G. Sterk, D. Karssenberg

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Water is a major limiting factor in arid and semi-arid agriculture. In the Sahelian zone of Africa, it is not always the limited amount of annual rainfall that constrains crop production, but rather the proportion of rainfall that enters the root zone and becomes plant-available soil moisture. Maximizing the rain-use efficiency and therefore limiting overland flow is an important issue for farmers. The objectives of this research were to model the processes of infiltration, runoff and subsequent erosion in a Sahelian environment and to study the spatial distribution of overland flow and soil erosion. The wide variet y of existing water erosion models are not developed for the Sahel and so do not include the unique Sahelian processes. The topography of the Sahelian agricultural lands in northern Burkina Faso is such that field slopes are generally low (0-5°) and overland flow mostly occurs in the form of sheet flow, which may transport large amounts of fine, nutrient-rich particles despite its low sediment transport capacity. Furthermore, pool formation in a field limits overland flow and causes resettlement of sediment resulting in the development of a surface crust. The EUROSEM model was rewritten in the dynamic modelling code of PCRaster and extended to account for the pool formation and crust development. The modelling results were calibrated with field data from the 2001 rainy season in the Katacheri catchment in northern Burkina Faso. It is concluded that the modified version of EUROSEM for the Sahel is a fully dynamic erosion model, able to simulate infiltration, runoff routing, pool formation, sediment transport, and erosion and deposition by inter-rill processes over the land surface in individual storms at the scale of both runoff plots and fields. A good agreement is obtained between simulated and measured amounts of runoff and sediment discharge. Incorporating crust development during the event may enhance model performance, since the process has a large influence on infiltration capacity and sediment detachment in the Sahel.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1547-1566
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • sandy soils
  • rainfall
  • simulation
  • africa


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