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Water Resour Manage (2014) 28:33073317

DOI 10.1007/s11269-014-0680-5

Integrated Remote Sensing and Geographic

Information System Based RUSLE Modelling
for Estimation of Soil Loss in Western Himalaya, India
Amit Kumar & Mamta Devi & Benidhar Deshmukh

Received: 19 September 2013 / Accepted: 15 May 2014 /

Published online: 27 May 2014
# Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Abstract Soil loss due to water erosion was estimated in Kangra region of western Himalaya
using revised universal soil loss equation modelling (RUSLE) in conjunction with Remote
Sensing (RS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The various parameters such as
rainfall erosivity (R), soil erodibility (K), topographic factor (LS), crop management factor (C)
and support practice factor (P) were derived using standard techniques. The study revealed that
forest cover, crop land and scrub/grass land constitute 87.4 % of soil erosion susceptible area.
The rate of depletion of soil was estimated at 25.63 t/ha/yr. It was highest in stony/barren land
(60.3 t/ha/yr) and lowest in case of tea garden (16.09 t/ha/yr). It was felt that there is a need of
implementation of soil and water conservation measures in the region to curb the soil loss. The
undulating nature of terrain was observed as the main contributing factor for soil erosion. It
was concluded that RS and GIS based RUSLE model can be efficiently used in mountainous
regions to determine the status and extent of soil erosion.
Keywords Conservation practices . DEM . Length of slope . NDVI . Rainfall erosivity . Soil
erodibility . Support parameter . Soil loss

1 Introduction
Soil erosion is deterioration of soil by the physical movement of its particles from a given site.
It is second biggest problem the world faces next to population growth (Pimentel 2006).
Worldwide the damage from soil erosions is estimated to be~$400 billion per year (Fletcher
2006). About 30 % of the worlds arable land has become unproductive as 60 % of its soil has

A. Kumar (*)
RS-GIS Laboratory, CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Council of Scientific &
Industrial Research, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, India
M. Devi
Remote Sensing and GIS Division, University of Allahabad, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
B. Deshmukh
School of Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, India


A. Kumar et al.

been washed away and deposited in rivers, streams and lakes, that has made these water bodies
prone to flooding and contamination with pesticides present in soil (Lang 2006). An estimated
53 % of total land of India is under soil erosion (Narayana and Babu 1983). Approximate
5,334 million tonnes of soil is eroded every year at the rate of 16.4 t/ha/yr due to water erosion
depleting 800 ha/yr of arable land in India (Kothyari 1996). In recent years, seriousness of soil
erosion has been felt in mountainous areas. The entire Himalayan region is prone to soil loss
(Jain et al. 2001; Rawat et al. 2013) and in Himachal Pradesh (H.P.) of western Himalaya itself,
~280 million tonnes of soil is lost annually (Singh 2008). About 49 % of catchments of its
perennial rivers are degraded resulting in declining productivity, loss of biodiversity, increased
sedimentation of reservoirs, drying up of water resources, recurring flash floods and deteriorating environment (Sharma et al. 2008). It is estimated that 54 % area of the H.P. is degraded
and 98 % of such erosion is only due to water. The diverse nature of forest, soil, climate and
uneven complex terrain has resulted in a varied topography, which makes the region an ideal
terrain for soil erosion due to flowing water (Hurni et al. 1996; Liniger and Thomas 1998). In
this situation, quantification of soil loss and delineation of degraded areas is necessary for
effective conservation planning (Yadav and Sidhu 2010).
In the recent past modelling for soil loss assessment using Remote Sensing (RS) and
Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies have been carried out by many investigators (Benzer 2010; Biswas 2012; Dabral et al. 2008; Pandey et al. 2007; Sheikh et al. 2011).
These works have concluded that the ability of RS to generate latest ground information and
strength of GIS to handle voluminous spatial data help in rapid assessment of the potential for
soil erosion in a region. Among soil loss estimation models, Universal Soil Loss Equation
(USLE) is considered as the best model and is being used worldwide for estimation of surface
erosion (Wischmeier and Smith 1978). It is an empirical model developed initially for field
crops in 1954 (Wischmeier and Smith 1978). It is designed to model mainly sheet and rill
erosion caused by overland flow in agricultural area (Merritt et al. 2003). A revised version of
this model (RUSLE) has enhanced soil loss predication capabilities and can be applied to
natural environmental conditions (Renard et al. 1997). RUSLE predicts the long term average
annual rate of soil erosion (Dais 2008) in variety of environment such as agriculture, forest,
rangeland, mining sites, construction sites, etc. (Stone and Hilborn 2000). The RUSLE
equation is written as

A R x K x LS x C x P

A = average annual predicted soil loss from sheet and rill erosion (tons/ha/year)
R = rainfall/runoff erosivity (MJ mm/ha/hr/year)
K = soil erodibility (Mg h/MJ/mm)
LS = slope length and steepness/topographic factor (dimensionless)
C = crop management (dimensionless)
P = support practices (dimensionless)
R factor is rainfall erosivity that depends on the intensity and duration of rainfall (Stone
and Hilborn 2000). K factor is soil erodibility factor and is a measure of susceptibility of
soil particles to detachment and transport by runoff (Stone and Hilborn 2000). LS factor or
topographic factor is the combined effect of length and steepness of slope. The steeper and
longer the slope the higher is the risk for erosion. Crop management factor (C) depend upon
various land use/landcover (LULC) prevailing in the region. It is generally used to determine
the relative effectiveness of soil and crop management systems in terms of preventing soil loss
(Roose 1976). P factor is support practice factor and can be computed from the slope and

Integrated RS and GIS RUSLE Modelling


crop cover conditions. It reflects the effect of practices that reduce the runoff rate and check the
soil loss (Stone and Hilborn 2000).
Among RUSLE factors, the C factor has been considered as most important as it is a
conservation related factor that control soil loss at a specific site (Teh 2011). The RUSLE
modelling using literature based C factor may lead to discrepancies in the results as they have
been computed for some other locations (Bhattarai and Dutta 2007; Khosrowpanah et al.
2007). This is the greatest drawback of RUSLE as it is ineffective in applications outside the
range of conditions for which it has been developed (Saha 2005). But on the other hand,
RUSLE also allows each factor to be independently updated with improved factors without
changing the base RUSLE equation (Khosrowpanah et al. 2007). Thus C factor if derived for
the targeted area may enhance the accuracy of the RUSLE model, which can be achieved
through remote sensing (Song et al. 2011; Suriyaprasita and Shrestha 2008). The C factor
derived using satellite data is the true representation of prevailing crop management practices
in the ground and it can be updated more frequently. Keeping these conditions in the backdrop,
the present study was carried out to understand nature and extent of soil loss in Kangra region
of H.P. in Indian western Himalaya (Fig. 1).

2 Materials and Methods

The Kangra is located between 3141 and 32 28 N and 7535 to 7704 E. (Fig. 1). It has
geographical spread of about 5,739 km2 and elevation ranges from 248 to 5,861 m amsl in the
region. The climate varies from sub-tropical in low hills and valleys, to sub-humid in the mid

Fig. 1 Map of the Study area


A. Kumar et al.

hills and temperate in high hills. River Beas and Ravi constitute the main drainage systems.
Soils of the district may be categorized into Low-hill soil zone, Mid-hill soil zone, High-hill
soil zone and Mountainous soil zone (DHDRK 2002).
The analysis for soil loss estimation was done using Arc GIS (10), Arc View (3.3) and
Erdas Imagine (8.6) softwares. The various steps (Fig. 2) involved in preparation of RUSLE
factors have been described as follows:
2.1 Preparation of R-Factor (Rainfall Erosivity) Map
Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) monthly rainfall data of 2011 from NASA
( was used for the calculation of R factor. Prior to that,
Fishers test was performed between TRMM data and rainfall data recorded at a field
observatory located inside the study area. As the result of the test was statistically nonsignificant at 5 % level of significance (=0.04; t=1.77; df=52), it suggested that the TRMM
data can be used as a replacement of field observatory data. Therefore, the TRMM rainfall data
in ESRI grid format was added and averaged by grid add and grid average functions of
spatial analyst extension of ArcGIS 10 to produce annual average rainfall map of the study
area. The following equation (Singh et al. 1981) was then applied to annual rainfall map to
derive R-factor map (Fig. 3a):
Rfactor 79 0:363 R R annual average rainfall in mm

2.2 Preparation of K-Factor (Soil Erodibility) Map

Soil map from National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSS&LUP), Nagpur
on 1:500,000 scale was used to derive K factor. The hard copy of soil map was scanned and
geo-referenced. The soil boundaries were then digitized over geo-referenced soil map in Arc
View 3.3 environment and soil attributes were added to digitized map. The Soil erodibility
map (Fig. 3b) was finally prepared by assigning K-values (Table 1) to the respective soil types.

Fig. 2 Methodology for computation of RUSLE factors

Integrated RS and GIS RUSLE Modelling


Fig. 3 Maps depicting (a) rainfall erosivity (b) soil erodibility (c) topographic factor, and (d) crop management
factor in the study area

2.3 Preparation of Ls-Factor (Topographic Factor) Map

Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) was used to
calculate for LS factor. LS-factor (Fig. 3c) was prepared using a tool originally developed in
Arc Macro Language (Hickey 2001) and later modified using C++ programming language
(Van et al. 2004). The DEM of the study area in ASCII format was given as an input to this
program. The program calculates LS factor by applying following equation (Wischmeier and
Smith 1978) to each grid cell of the input DEM:

LS =72:6m 65:41 sin2 4:56 sin 0:065
= cumulative slope length in meter
= the downhill slope angle
Table 1 Soil types and their KValues

(Source: Jain et al. 2010)

Soil type

K- values (Mg h/MJ/mm)

Loamy soils


Loamy skeletal soils


Coarse loamy soils


Sandy soils



A. Kumar et al.

m=slope contingent variable (0.5 if the slope angle is greater than 2.86, 0.4 on slopes of
1.72 to 2.86; 0.3 on slopes of 0.57 to 1.72; 0.2 on slopes less than 0.57).
2.4 Preparation of P-Factor (Support Factor) Map
The P-factor (Fig. 3d) was computed from the slope and LULC. The slope map (%) was
prepared using DEM in Erdas Imagine 8.6 and it was merged with LULC using union
function. The P-values (Table 2) were then assigned to the merged classes for the preparation
of P-factor map.
2.5 Preparation of C-Factor (Crop Management Factor) Map
For the preparation of C-factor map, LULC classification of LANDSAT satellite
images (path 147, row 38, dated 31.05.2011 and path 148, row 38, dated
07.06.2011) of the study area was carried out using digital image processing techniques (Jensen 1996; Lillesand et al. 2008). Prior to that, the LANDSAT images were
atmospherically corrected using FLAASH atmospheric correction module (Kaufman
et al. 1997). The classified map categorized the study area into crop land, alpine
pastures, forest cover, scrub land, tea garden, built-up land, sandy area, scree slope,
snow covered area, stony/barren area and water bodies. The C values (Table 2)
available in the literatures (Wanielista and Yousef 1993) were then assigned to above
LULC classes for the preparation of C factor map (Fig. 4a).

Table 2 Land use/land cover classes and their C and P values

Land use/land cover classes

C-values based
on literatures

from NDVI

P- values

Area (%)

Alpine pasture
Built-up land





Crop land (38 % slope)





Crop land (812 % slope)





Crop land (1216 % slope)





Crop land (1620 % slope)





Crop land (2025 % slope)




Crop land (less than 3 % & more than 25 % slope)




Forest cover
Sandy area





Scrub land




Scree slopes


Snow covered area


Stony/barren area



Tea garden




Water bodies


(Wanielista and Yousef 1993)

(Londhe et al. 2010)
(Wischmeier and Smith 1978)

Integrated RS and GIS RUSLE Modelling


Fig. 4 Crop management factors (a) derived from literatures, and (b) computed from NDVI

In addition, a C factor map was also prepared from satellite data using following equation
(Kouli et al. 2009; Zhou et al. 2008), which has already been used and tested for Indian
mountainous region (Prasannakumar et al. 2011):
NDVI = Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (Jensen 1996; Lillesand et al. 2008), and
and are constants (=2 and =1; Vander-Knijff et al. 2000)



The atmospherically corrected LANDSAT TM temporal images acquired in the month of

November and March were used for the calculation of C factor as images of these months
have been reported as ideal for deriving C values (Alexandridis et al. 2013). In November
and March, deciduous forest shades their leaves and crops are harvested leading to sparse
vegetation cover in the region. The C values obtained for these 2 months were averaged and
the resulting values were considered as final C values (Fig. 4b). The LULC map of the study
area was finally overlaid on it to derive C values for different LULC classes (Table 2) in the
study area.
2.6 Estimation of Soil Loss
The above derived RUSLE factors (R, K, LS, C and P factors) were multiplied together for the
estimation of soil loss in the study area (Fig. 5). The calculated soil loss values were finally
categorized in to seven erosion classes (Table 3) following the classification system proposed
for soil loss in Indian context (Singh et al. 1992).

3 Results and Discussion

The result showed that the Baijnath region has lowest rainfall erosivity (238.72 MJ mm/ha/hr/
year) while the highest erosivity was observed in Dharamshala region (1144.04 MJ mm/ha/hr/


A. Kumar et al.

Fig. 5 Map depicting soil erosion in the study area

year) as depicted in Fig. 3a. The study area has four types of soils such as loamy, loamy
skeletal, coarse loamy and sandy soil. Among them, the areas bearing sandy soil are more
erodible, which cover 12.5 % of the area. Another 77.88 % of the area is occupied with loamy
soil which is less erodible in nature as compared to other soil (Fig. 3b). The Length of slope
ranged from 1 to 92 in the study area (Fig. 3c). The Dharamshala and Baijnath regions had
highest average length of slope (15) whereas Kangra, Fatehpur and Jaisinghpur regions had
lowest slope length (9). The largest area was occupied by forest cover (31.86 %) followed by
Table 3 Soil Loss and their corresponding classes
Erosion class

Soil loss (t/ha/yr)

Area (%) (C factor

based on published sources)

Area (%) (C factor

derived using NDVI)












Very high








Very severe




No erosion



(Source: Singh et al. 1992)

Integrated RS and GIS RUSLE Modelling


23.96 % crop land (Table 2), and 15.2 % under alpine pasture and scree slopes on the higher
ridges. The 2.85 % area was found to covered with stony/barren land and sandy area.
It was found that the result of soil loss were different (Table 3) when C values from two
different sources (published sources and satellite data) were given as inputs to RUSLE
modelling. The reason being the C values provided in published sources pertain to some
other locations . Besides the similar C values have been suggested for more than one LULC
(0.08 for alpine pasture and crop land; 0.01for built-up land, scrub land and tea garden) in
published sources. On the other hand C values computed from NDVI are recent, location
specific and varied for different LULC.
The study revealed that the rate of soil loss due to rill and sheet erosion in the Kangra
district is 25.63 t/ha/yr. The 39.83 % of the study area was observed under high to very high
erosion. The 18.73 % of the region experiences moderate soil erosion and 11.89 % is affected
due to severe and very severe types of soil loss. The 18.93 % of the study area is unaffected
due to soil erosion, while 10.93 % areas undergo negligible to slight soil erosion. The rate of
soil erosion was observed highest in Dharamshala region (37.31 t/ha/yr) followed by Kangra
(35.56 t/ha/yr), Palampur (29.48 t/ha/yr), Jaisinghpur (25.32 t/ha/yr), Dhira (22.54 t/ha/yr),
Khundian (22.53 t/ha/yr), Baijnath (22.42 t/ha/yr), Thural (22.27 t/ha/yr), Baroh (20.23 t/ha/
yr), Harchakian (17.47 t/ha/yr), Jaswan (16.63 t/ha/yr), Jawali (16.28 t/ha/yr), Dera Gopipur
(15.86 t/ha/yr), Nurpur (13.31 t/ha/yr), Rakkar (13.06 t/ha/yr), Indora (12.96 t/ha/yr) and
Fatehpur (12.04 t/ha/yr). The rate of soil depletion was observed more in the regions having
high length and steepness of slopes. The soil erodibility was also observed higher in such
Of the total soil erosion in the region, the forest cover contributes to 24. 67 % of the high to
very severe types of erosion followed by crop land (15.3 %) and, scrub/grass land (14.99 %)
and the least in the case of tea garden (0.38 %). The 5.46 % of the moderate soil erosion was
found in case of crop land followed by forest cover (4.51 %) and, scrub/grass land (1.96 %),
and least for tea garden (0.03 %). Similarly, 10.12 % of the negligible to slight soil erosion was
recorded in case of forest cover followed by crop land (8.8 %), and least in built-up land
(0.06 %). The rate of soil erosion was highest in case of stony/barren area (60.3 t/ha/yr)
followed by alpine pasture (57.29 t/ha/yr), built-up land (37.53 t/ha/yr), sandy area (31.4 t/ha/
yr), scrub/grass land (29.88 t/ha/yr), forest cover (23 t/ha/yr), crop land (18.31 t/ha/yr) and tea
garden (16.09 t/ha/yr).
It was noticed that though forest cover, crop land and scrub/grass land constitute largest area
susceptible to soil erosion but the rate of erosion in these cases are less as compared to other
LULC classes. The reason being these are covered by vegetations that prevent soil erosion.
Therefore the tea gardens, which are properly managed, are least affected by erosion. The areas
such as stony/barren land and alpine pasture are more prone to soil erosion due to their high
length and steepness of slopes.

4 Conclusion
It was observed that the undulating nature of terrains favored soil erosion in the study area.
Therefore, the high length and steepness of slopes in the alpine and stony/barren regions of
Dharamshala, Baijnath, Kangra and Palampur have made them vulnerable to soil erosion. It
was found that though a large proportion of forest cover, crop land and scrub/grass land
undergo soil erosion but the rate of soil depletion in such cases are less as they are protected by
vegetation cover. The susceptibility of alpine regions and forest cover due to soil erosion is a
serious issue that needs to be addressed on priority as they abode rich biodiversity and also


A. Kumar et al.

influence climate regime of the region. The implementation of soil/water conservation measures and adoption of suitable support practices are therefore recommended in order to curb the
soil loss in the study area. The study also concluded that the RUSLE model along with
geospatial technologies are efficient tools for identification of erosion prone areas in mountainous regions like western Himalaya. These technologies help in identification of nature and
extent of soil erosion, which may be a guiding point for further field based experiments on soil
Acknowledgments We acknowledge USGS, USA for LANDSAT satellite data, CGIAR-CSI, USA for DEM
and NASA, USA for TRMM rainfall data used in this study. The Council of Scientific & Industrial research is
acknowledged for financial and infrastructure support. We are thankful to Dr. P. S. Ahuja, director, CSIR-IHBT,
Palampur and staff members of Biodiversity division, CSIR-IHBT for their help. The authors are also grateful to
anonymous reviewers and editors for their helpful comments. This is IHBT communication number 3548.

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