US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Climatic Change (2013) 117:69–83. DOI 10.1007/s10584-012-0557-7


Playa wetlands on the west-central Great Plains of North America are vulnerable to sediment infilling from upland agriculture, putting at risk several important ecosystem services as well as essential habitats and food resources of diverse wetland-dependent biota. Climate predictions for this semi-arid area indicate reduced precipitation which may alter rates of erosion, runoff, and sedimentation of playas. We forecasted erosion rates, sediment depths, and resultant playa wetland depths across the west-central Great Plains and examined the relative roles of land use context and projected changes in precipitation in the sedimentation process. We estimated erosion with the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) using historic values and downscaled precipitation predictions from three general circulation models and three emissions scenarios. We calibrated RUSLE results using field sediment measurements. RUSLE is appealing for regional scale modeling because it uses climate forecasts with monthly resolution and other widely available values including soil texture, slope and land use. Sediment accumulation rates will continue near historic levels through 2070 and will be sufficient to cause most playas (if not already filled) to fill with sediment within the next 100 years in the absence of mitigation. Land use surrounding the playa, whether grassland or tilled cropland, is more influential in sediment accumulation than climate-driven precipitation change.