Erosion is a fundamentally natural process that has been going on around us for millions of years. However, what are the erosion pros and cons, and what are their impacts? We will learn all answers in this article.
Erosion is a natural process that gradually occurs over long periods. And by long, I don’t mean merely years or decades. Instead, the rock formations and landscapes you witness today are slowly molded through erosion across millions of years.
Unlike weathering, erosion can take place anywhere from soft soils to rigid mountains and enormous water bodies.
In this process, small pieces of earth or rock are displaced bit by bit through natural forces, including water current, the wind, and gravity.
Although it isn’t an apparent process, some forms of erosion, namely soil erosion, deeply affect the agriculture industry and are further accelerated by human practices.
So, what is erosion, and what are the effects of erosion on the environment?
I’ve provided a detailed overview of these questions in this article about erosion pros and cons to give you some insight on the subject. So let’s get started.
What Is Erosion?
Erosion is a process that causes soil or pieces of earth to wear away from their original surface gradually. While some types of erosion are affected nowadays by human activity, this is mostly a natural process that occurs due to the flow of water or wind.
Most importantly, erosion is also considered an environmental issue because it displaces fertile soil. Attributing to water flow erosion, soil particles are carried away into water bodies.
This leads to large amounts of sediments in the water, while the soil on the land becomes highly saturated with water particles. Eventually, this displacement affects plant life, agriculture, and aquatic life.
Similarly, chemicals and hazardous materials also wash along with water erosion into freshwater bodies. This gradually contaminates them and makes them unfit for human use.
While the effects of soil erosion on the environment deeply affect human life, there are other types of erosion you should know about as well. Here, I’ve listed down the main types of erosion before listing down soil erosion pros and cons.
The sand dunes and rock formations we see along the coastline, including the beach itself are all created by coastal erosion. The constant ebb and flow of water over the years displaced the original structure and molds the landscape into beautiful formations.
Some benefits of coastal erosion include the stabilization of marine vegetation in shallow waters and the steepening of the beach slope to avoid excessive flooding.
That’s why even when some locations take erosion control measures, there are both pros and cons of using jetties for erosion control on the coast.
Water erosion is another salient type of erosion that occurs in four ways. Namely sheet erosion, rill erosion, gully erosion, and flash erosion.
Sheet erosion involves displacing the top layer of soil from the land, while rill erosion is when water carves out small channels through the land. Additionally, when water carves deep and distinct channels through the land, the phenomenon is known as gully erosion.
Finally, splash erosion is the type of erosion that quickly becomes evident. It is incurred due to rough splashes of water in the form of waves or rain and can even wipe out more than three feet of soil in one go.
Although the effects of erosion through water are highly extensive if observed over time, the erosion level depends on the soil texture, water flow, vegetation, and climate in particular areas.
Soil erosion is one of the most abundant and troublesome forms of erosion faced by humans today. Not only does soil erosion lead to the loss of fertile material called topsoil, but it also leads to excessive water content on land, leaving it barren and unfit for future use.
Soil erosion is caused by various factors, including water and wind depending on the location’s climate. However, erosion pros and cons through the soil are not entirely nature’s doing.
Instead, more than 70% of all soil erosion types occur due to tillage generated from human farming and agriculture.
However, just like coastal erosion, soil erosion is affected by various factors as well. These include the type of vegetation existing on the land and the land level.
Although there are a few benefits of soil erosion, it does more bad than good to us in the long run. Here’s a brief overview of soil erosion before I discuss erosion pros and cons.
Read through to see why we need to control soil erosion by promoting sustainable agriculture practices.
Are There Any Benefits to Soil Erosion?
Unfortunately, there are little to no benefits of soil erosion. While naturally-occurring soil erosion maintains a sustainable level letting agriculture and farming practices thrive, the same can not be said for human-incurred soil erosion.
Apart from natural erosion, human agricultural activity is held accountable for spoiling more than half of the available topsoil on the entire earth during the last century. This topsoil is an essential aspect of sustaining life on earth and protecting our planet’s ecological biodiversity.
Mainly, the loss of topsoil and soil erosion includes the depletion of nutrients, soil structure degradation, and excessive salinity. All these aspects leave soil unusable for agricultural harvests and other productive uses.
Similarly, water pollution as contaminants and chemicals are carried by water into nearby streams and rivers. Moreover, increased sedimentation in water bodies affects sea life and leads to disasters such as floods and desertification.
All this means that humankind is on the brink of starvation if immediate measures are not taken to prevent further soil degradation through natural and human-incurred erosion. Here are some root causes of soil erosion that can be reduced to maintain the minimal fertile soils left on our planet.
Causes Of Soil Erosion
During the 1960s, the world speculated a severe food shortage in the coming years. This led to the Green Revolution that increased food production by enhancing agricultural techniques.
Although the reform succeeded in increasing the global food supply, it left us with a few devastating aspects, one of them was soil erosion.
Here are the causes that contributed to soil erosion over the years for you to check out before discussing erosion pros and cons.
Commercial agriculture continued to flourish with the increasing food demand in the world. As more natural vegetation was removed, it led to the exposure of topsoil. Eventually, the exposure destroyed the diverse ecosystem of microorganisms in the soil leading to soil erosion.
Without plants, trees, and wildlife to cover the soil, it is quickly swept along from the land into the water.
Most importantly, food crops and cash crops cannot retain soil well, making the erosion process faster. Eventually, the land loses its fertile soil, and the sedimentation spoils nearby water bodies as well.
Increasing the rate of livestock farming to meet global needs leads to excessive grazing to feed the livestock. As more fertile soil is exposed due to overgrazing, it becomes subject to erosion and compaction through wind and rain.
Herbicides And Pesticides
To sustain global food demand, farmers have to use agrochemicals like herbicides and pesticides to produce a predictable harvest. These chemicals often change the natural pH of the soil and disrupt its biodiverse nature.
Pros and Cons of Erosion
Now that you’ve read through the types of erosion, the current situation regarding soil erosion, and the causes of soil erosion, you probably think there are no benefits of erosion.
However, that’s not the truth. While human practices have increased soil erosion, there are still two sides to the coin. Naturally-occurring erosion and erosion accelerated by human activities both have advantages and disadvantages.
Here’s a list of erosion pros and cons to give you further insight on the subject.
Pros of Erosion
If you’ve read through my introduction to soil erosion, you’re familiar with the dire situation it has left humans in with the ever-increasing food demand.
That probably makes you wonder, what benefits do we get from soil erosion? Is there possibly a bright side to the devastating situation? Read the points below to find out.
1. Nutrient Distribution
While soil erosion resulting from human practices has pumped water bodies with chemicals and contaminants, that’s not the case with natural soil erosion. According to a study conducted during the 1950s, natural soil erosion works to impart essential nutrients that help aquatic biodiversity thrive.
2. Soil Cleansing
Furthermore, natural soil erosion cleanses the soil by removing the toxic materials accumulated on the land. Water and wind flow brush away the useless materials from the surface. These materials include rotting vegetation and weeds.
This process exposes a refreshed layer of soil beneath the unfavorable materials that help new plants grow effortlessly and receive optimal soil nutrients.
3. Landscape Formation
One of the most intriguing aspects of natural soil erosion is changing landscape formations. Over the years, this gradual water, wind, and gravity movement have resulted in beautiful natural monuments. Believe it or not, popular tourist spots like the Grand Canyon wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the natural soil erosion process.
Cons of Erosion
While the natural erosion process is a beautiful and intriguing process that shapes the landscapes we witness and distributes nutrients evenly across land and water, excessive erosion has many disadvantages.
The increased level of soil erosion attributing to human activity has created some significant problems that might affect human life as we know it in the long run. Here’s a list of erosion cons where you can get all the details you need.
1. Loss of Fertile Land
The loss of fertile and arable land is perhaps one of the most catastrophic results of soil erosion. Staggering statistics put forward by researchers at the Grantham Center show that humans have lost more than 30% of the earth’s fertile land to erosion. Astonishingly, this loss occurred for 40 years only.
Considering that it takes more than 500 years to create merely centimeters of topsoil, the current consumption rate is highly unsustainable. We’re losing fertile soil faster than nature can replace it.
Similarly, ammonia is one of the essential substances used to produce better cash and food crop yields. When this substance ends up in water bodies through soil erosion, it has adverse effects on marine life.
2. Reduced Water Retention
Soil erosion through water removes the top fertile layer of the soil. Typically, deeper soil surfaces do not retain water and have low drainage capacity. This ultimately increases the runoff in those areas which does not provide the ideal moisture level for plants to survive.
To solve this problem, farmers have to conduct tillages, so the land retains enough water for plants to thrive.
3. Destruction of Aquatic Habitats
Soil erosion caused by water flow takes small rock sediments into nearby water bodies including streams and rivers. These sediments disrupt the habitat’s natural balance, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic animals to thrive.
Besides that, some fish also end up consuming the sediments, mistaking them for food. This drastically increases the mortality of aquatic life. Similarly, invasive soil particles also destroy the riverbeds where fish and other water organisms lay their eggs.
4. Increased Aquatic Vegetation
If losing the essential nutrients for plant growth from the land wasn’t worst enough, soil erosion transports these nutrients to the water through sedimentation. This promotes the excessive growth of aquatic vegetation, leading to further difficulties for larger organisms like fish.
Similarly, plants like algae cover the water surface entirely, which means the ecosystem does not get the essential support it needs through sunlight and air.
Why Prevent Soil Erosion?
Now that you’ve been through my list of erosion pros and cons, you know that it has more adverse effects than positive ones on the environment. That’s why humans need to take necessary measures and reduce soil erosion to a favorable level.
Here are some key reasons why we should control soil erosion as a global community.
- Fertile soils help increase healthy vegetation and combat climate change.
- Preservation of tough topsoil reduces the encroachment of water bodies and helps protect aquatic life.
- Healthy soils put irrigation to optimal use reducing farming and agriculture costs in the long run.
- Topsoil is an entire ecosystem in itself, and preserving it helps conserve biodiversity.
Ways to Prevent Soil Erosion
Although soil erosion is a natural process that provides beautiful landscapes and conducts effective nutrient distribution, humans have taken it too far.
Now that you know why we need to prevent further soil erosion, here are some ways to control soil erosion and bring it to a sustainable level.
- Using sustainable farming practices by applying regenerative farming methods. These methods aim to heal the environment as well rather than keeping high yields as a central motive. This can help reduce soil erosion and conserve the ecosystems connected to it.
- Where lands are not directly exposed to water, they’re subject to wind erosion. These soils can be protected by planting windbreaks to reduce the impact of winds.
- Building walls around the affected area can significantly reduce the flow of soil sediments through the water.
An FAO research shows that reforestation of areas affected by soil erosion can increase water retention and soil quality in the long run.
- Using tillage practices for soil conservation allows maximum crop residues to stay on the surface, which ultimately reduces exposure to water or wind.
Benefits of Preventing Soil Erosion
Here’s a list of benefits we can achieve by adopting soil erosion prevention practices mentioned above.
- Using techniques like erosion control blankets reduces the impact of rain and wind, considerably decreasing the runoff.
- Helps maintain habitats and let biodiversity flourish in the region
- Retains the topsoil for longer intervals and preserves the nutrients for sufficient plant growth
And that’s it. Through this list of essential erosion pros and cons, I’ve tried to highlight the intriguing aspects of natural soil erosion. Along with that, I’ve also defined the adverse impacts of human intervention.
All of us want to sustain our environment and reduce soil degradation in the long run. In that case, these erosion pros and cons might help devise and implement effective strategies to maintain soil integrity.