Topographic index (TI) models have been widely used to predict trajectories and initiation points of ephemeral gullies (EGs) in agricultural landscapes. Prediction of EGs strongly relies on the selected value of critical TI threshold, and the accuracy depends on topographic features, agricultural management, and datasets of observed EGs. This study statistically evaluated the predictions by TI models in two paired watersheds in Central Kansas that had different levels of structural disturbances due to implemented conservation practices. Four TI models with sole dependency on topographic factors of slope, contributing area, and planform curvature were used in this study. The observed EGs were obtained by field reconnaissance and through the process of hydrological reconditioning of digital elevation models (DEMs). The Kernel Density Estimation analysis was used to evaluate TI distribution within a 10-m buffer of the observed EG trajectories. The EG occurrence within catchments was analyzed using kappa statistics of the error matrix approach, while the lengths of predicted EGs were compared with the observed dataset using the Nash–Sutcliffe Efficiency (NSE) statistics. The TI frequency analysis produced bi-modal distribution of topographic indexes with the pixels within the EG trajectory having a higher peak. The graphs of kappa and NSE versus critical TI threshold showed similar profile for all four TI models and both watersheds with the maximum value representing the best comparison with the observed data. The Compound Topographic Index (CTI) model presented the overall best accuracy with NSE of 0.55 and kappa of 0.32. The statistics for the disturbed watershed showed higher best critical TI threshold values than for the undisturbed watershed. Structural conservation practices implemented in the disturbed watershed reduced ephemeral channels in headwater catchments, thus producing less variability in catchments with EGs. The variation in critical thresholds for all TI models suggested that TI models tend to predict EG occurrence and length over a range of thresholds rather than find a single best value.
Geomorphology – Elsevier
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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