Modelling improved water availability through coarse woody organic matter in grassland soils under shifting precipitation dynamics

Authors: Verena Jauss*, Cornell University, Patrick J Sullivan, Cornell University, Rebecca L Schneider, Cornell University
Topics: Soils, Agricultural Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Soil Geography, Water Retention, Grasslands, Soil Health, Soil Restoration, Climate Change, Ecological Modelling
Session Type: Virtual Poster
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 51
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Extreme soil degradation is a serious problem affecting grassland ecosystems in the Great Plains, United States and globally. Long-term agricultural practices have resulted in erosion and loss of soil organic matter, with impacts on soil fertility and crop yields. Less recognised has been an associated reduction in soil moisture retention being exacerbated by climate change, with a shift in inter-annual precipitation patterns towards more intense storms and hotter, longer dry periods. Research conducted in Mandan, ND has shown success in restoring degraded grasslands by incorporating coarse woody organic matter into top soils in order to capture and store infrequent rainfall. These woodchips were integrated into the top 20cm of soil in replicated plots and monitored for soil moisture and temperature throughout the summer of 2015. The data were examined using a Time-Series Model based on the Penman equation and Hartge & Horn Water Content at Field Capacity to describe the relationship of interacting variables on water retention in grasslands soils under shifting precipitation dynamics. Our time-series model includes inputs such as water uptake as a function of precipitation regime and outputs reflecting evaporation rates of different coarse woody organic matter. Saturation level is a function of soil makeup modified by coarse woody organic matter directed at increasing water retention and was used to explore retention time relative to timing and variation of precipitation events. The model successfully captured the process that coarse woody organic matter increases rain capture and soil moisture retention levels in mixed grass prairies of Mandan, ND.

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