Soil Erosion

Most people have learned about erosion in one form or another from high school education. Erosion is the process by which soil and rock are removed from the surface through wind or water flow, and then transported to other locations. Erosion occurs in a variety of areas and processes such as on coasts, through rainfall, from wind, freeze and thaw cycles, and along rivers. In this sense erosion is only presented as a natural process, and not of undue concern.

However, human activities have increased the rate at which erosion occurs globally by 10-40 times. Excessive erosion causes desertification, sedimentation of waterways, and ecological collapse due to the reduction of the upper soil layers which are nutrient rich. The cause of these problems are solely human: industrial agriculture, deforestation, roads, climate change, and urban sprawl.

Several solutions have been invented to curb erosion in agriculture, but not much else. Terrace building, no-till agriculture, and revegetation of stripped soils are all effective land use practices that prevent or limit erosion in agriculture.

In urban environments erosion is intensified due to the extent of impermeable areas. Reduction of soil results in loss of absorbance of rainfall, which causes runoff. The rain that is now runoff travels in higher volumes and velocity than normal, and when it interacts with soil has unnatural force and erosion potential.

In fact, erosion caused by deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices contributed to the ecological collapse of Easter Island and the disintegration of its civilization. So you can see that erosion is not something to be ignored. What can you do? The most effective method to prevent erosion is to increase vegetative cover on land. It is important, especially in urban environments, to intercept rainfall before it gains velocity. If you notice excessive amounts of rain flow on your lawns or driveway, consider installing a stormwater best management practice such as a rain garden or bioswale. These installations can intercept rainwater and absorb it at higher rates and volumes, preventing rain from travelling further and causing erosion. Beyond your own property, you can petition your local or state government to engage in stormwater best management practices and other erosion control methods.

By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013

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