Inundation Patterns of Farmed Pothole Depressions with Varying Subsurface Drainage

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Martin, Alexander
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Kaleita, Amy
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Soupir, Michelle
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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The prairie pothole region (PPR) ranges from central Iowa to the northwest into Montana and south central Canada, totaling around 700,000 km2. This area contains millions of potholes, or enclosed topographical depressions, which often inundate with rainfall. Many are located in areas that have been converted to arable agricultural land through installation of artificial drainage. However, even with drainage, potholes will pond or have saturated soil conditions during and after significant rain events. The portion of the PPR that extends into Iowa is known as the Des Moines Lobe. In this two-year study, surface water depth data were collected hourly from eight prairie potholes in the Des Moines Lobe in central Iowa to determine the surface water hydrology. These potholes included surface and subsurface drained row crops and undrained retired land, allowing for drainage comparisons. Inundation lasted five or more days at least once at six of the eight potholes, including four potholes with surface inlets and subsurface drainage, which resulted in four of fourteen growing seasons not producing a yield in part of the pothole. Water balances of four different drainage intensities showed increased infiltration due to subsurface drainage and up to 78% of outflow due to surface inlet drainage. Overall, drainage decreased the number of average inundation days, but heavy precipitation events still caused lengthy inundation periods that resulted in crop loss.


This article is published as Martin, Alexander, Amy L. Kaleita, and Michelle L. Soupir. "Inundation patterns of farmed pothole depressions with varying subsurface drainage." Transactions of the ASABE 62, no. 6 (2019): 1579-1590. DOI: 10.13031/trans.13435. Posted with permission.

Tue Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2019