Soil erosion is a serious consequence that affects the entire planet. Studies continue to support the fact that humans are the root cause of soil erosion, whether erosion occurs from wind or water. As the effects of erosion contribute to soil’s ability to produce and regenerate, soil quality continues to rapidly deplete. PH levels and nutrients are altered from erosion events and modern farming practices do little to offset these effects and often make it worse.
Population growth and agriculture are driving forces in the damage caused by erosion. As awareness grows, land management practices continue to evolve and search for solutions to mitigate erosion’s effects or work to prevent it from taking place.
What is Soil Erosion?
Soil erosion is the wearing away of soil layers from the effects of wind and water. Most soil erosion is caused by human activity, and agriculture and development are the primary drivers of wind and water erosion.
Wind erosion strips off topsoil and transports nutrients downwind while weakening soil’s stabilizing forces. The wind carries sediment over miles of land, leading to the exacerbation of allergies and upper respiratory conditions.
Soil erosion caused by water bombards soil with moisture it cannot absorb or resist. Topsoil and its nutrient layer might be carried away by a rain event, or soil’s pH and microbial colonies might be compromised.
Along with removing vital layers of fertile soil, wind and water erosion also carry away fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Erosion carries and distributes these materials within sediment to incite environmental harm.
Why is Soil So Important?
Soil might seem like a passive material but it is a living and evolving substance that is the heart of where we grow our food, construct our shelters, and practice our business. Earth’s soils are in a delicate balance and formed over millennia by forces of wind and rain and natural erosion events. The shaping of new soil depends on the area where it forms, which forces contribute, local microbes that make soil home, and soil’s ability to grow and produce.
As the human population continues to inflate, agriculture land is increasingly at risk. Degradation of soil can render some areas unfit for production, leaving land vulnerable to excess erosion. Currently, soil’s ability to regenerate and replace what was lost is locked in an ongoing battle with population growth. In time, nature may not be able to keep up and land that is still able to produce may become less and less viable.
Human Soil Erosion Facts
When we take a closer look at the human impact on soil health and the part human activity plays in erosion, there come certain eventualities. In a 2006 Cornell University study on the effects of human activity and soil erosion, The Journal of the Environment, Development and Sustainability, stated the following facts.
- Humans have been responsible for excess soil erosion since the first millennium.
- Natural soil erosion occurs at a rate of 60 million feet per one million years.
- Human activity accounts for ten times more soil erosion than all natural erosion processes combined.
- China and India lose soil to erosion thirty times faster than natural occurrences, while the U.S. loses soil ten times faster.
- In some agricultural areas, soil erosion rate is 1500 feet per one million years.
- Worldwide, 37,000 square miles of cropland are lost each year to erosion.
- Erosion has rendered 30% of the world’s croplands unproductive.
- In the U.S., an estimated $37 billion is lost in agricultural production due to erosion and its effects.
- Damage can exceed $400 billion per year worldwide.
- Wind erosion transports airborne dust which can carry human infectious disease and pathogens, including tuberculosis and anthrax.
- Some dessert soils have lost their entire A horizon or topsoil.
What Human Activities Lead to Soil Erosion?
Agriculture and development are primary human practices that lead to or worsen soil erosion. As the consequences to infertile soil and climate change become more apparent, taking action to offset the effects of soil erosion is vital to maintaining land for agriculture. Fortunately, changes are taking place in the following areas.
Overgrazing: Farmers may have an overabundance of livestock. Sheep, cattle, and goats consume protective vegetation or compact the soil when they trod over it.
Overcropping. Crops constantly in rotation deny the land time to lay fallow and restore soil’s nutrients and balance pH. Soils dry out due to overcropping which leads to infertility. Farmers might compensate with excess fertilizers or artificial nutrients.
Deforestation: Clearing large land areas to harvest wood for construction or as a source of fuel leave those stripped lands bare and vulnerable. Removal of vegetation exposes land to water and wind erosion. Lack of reforestation can result in a loss of biodiversity, compromising soil structure and health.
Steps to Minimize Soil Erosion
Minimizing conditions that lead to soil erosion, as well as lessening impacts, may slake the damage. Planting crops with ample time between rotations can give the soil a chance to regenerate and repopulate with microbes and nutrients. Reduced soil tillage also has beneficial effects by lessening soil aggregate loss while reinforcing soil’s staying power.
Strip or terrace planting can help support soil in erosion events while providing nutrients and balancing pH. Using natural geotextiles help soil keep its moisture level in balance and provides nutrients to the soil. Replacing lost vegetation helps soil repopulate beneficial bacteria and regain their fertility and resilience.
Although extensive damage has already been done, steps can be taken to reduce the impact of wind and water erosion. Since human activity accounts for nearly all excessive erosion consequences, recognizing the role humans play and taking action to protect the planet and her growing layer of soils might mean the difference between a fed planet and a starving one.
Actions like altering farming practices to lessen land disturbance, planting natural vegetation and managing land so that the soil is protected and cared for. This results in lands that are able to produce because the soil is fertile and in balance so that it can work to human advantage, which is what we intended to begin with.