Spatial analysis of soil erosion and sediment fluxes: a paired watershed study of two Rappahannock River tributaries, Stafford County, Virginia

Environ Manage. 2008 May;41(5):766-78. doi: 10.1007/s00267-008-9094-6.


Soil erosion is a serious problem in areas with expanding construction, agricultural production, and improper storm water management. It is important to understand the major processes affecting sediment delivery to surficial water bodies in order to tailor effective mitigation and outreach activities. This study analyzes how naturally occurring and anthropogenic influences, such as urbanization and soil disturbance on steep slopes, are reflected in the amount of soil erosion and sediment delivery within sub-watershed-sized areas. In this study, two sub-watersheds of the Rappahannock River, Horsepen Run and Little Falls Run, were analyzed using the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) and a sediment delivery ratio (SDR) to estimate annual sediment flux rates. The RUSLE/SDR analyses for Horsepen Run and Little Falls Run predicted 298 Mg/y and 234 Mg/y, respectively, but nearly identical per-unit-area sediment flux rates of 0.15 Mg/ha/y and 0.18 Mg/ha/y. Suspended sediment sampling indicated greater amounts of sediment in Little Falls Run, which is most likely due to anthropogenic influences. Field analyses also suggest that all-terrain vehicle crossings represent the majority of sediment flux derived from forested areas of Horsepen Run. The combined RUSLE/SDR and field sampling data indicate that small-scale anthropogenic disturbances (ATV trails and construction sites) play a major role in overall sediment flux rates for both basins and that these sites must be properly accounted for when evaluating sediment flux rates at a sub-watershed scale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Pollution*
  • Off-Road Motor Vehicles*
  • Rivers*
  • Soil*
  • Virginia


  • Soil