• overland flow;
  • rainsplash;
  • sheetflow;
  • grazing;
  • washload;
  • kinematic wave

[1] In interrill areas, overland flow is often incapable of detaching soil particles so detachment is primarily by raindrop impact. We derive a mathematical expression, rain power (R, W m−2), relating the energy expenditure of raindrops impacting a soil surface to the rate of detachment of soil particles. Rain power incorporates rainfall, hillslope, and vegetation characteristics and is modulated by flow depths. Rainfall simulation experiments on natural hillslopes were performed to measure detachment rates and across-slope flow depth distributions in surface runoff. Our results indicate that flow depths follow a Poisson distribution, and this observation is used to develop a dimensionless function, A(equation image, d), that accounts for the interaction of flow depths (h) and raindrop diameter (d) in moderating detachment rates. Rain power correlates well with the detachment rate of fine-grained particles (ψ, g m−2 s−1) so that ψ = 0.011R1.4A(equation image, d) (n = 44, R2 = 0.88, p < 0.005). We generalize this result to represent natural rainfall conditions and present a method for modeling sediment detachment rates and sediment discharge along entire lengths of hillslopes under the range of conditions where detached sediment is transported as wash load. Modeling simulations demonstrate the temporal and spatial variation in detachment rates caused by increases in flow depth.