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Soil Erosion: Effects & Prevention

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  • 0:07 Soil Erosion
  • 0:51 Causes
  • 1:21 Effects
  • 3:40 Prevention
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Topsoil is lost through soil erosion. This can reduce soil quality and cause water pollution. Learn about the effects of soil erosion as well as preventative measures, including increased vegetation, terracing, crop rotation and strip cropping.

Soil Erosion

Did you ever stop to think about how important soil is to your daily life? If all of the soil, or even just the top layer of soil, in your area was suddenly washed away, there would be no medium for crops to grow.

And, think about the areas that would receive the washed away soil. These areas would be clogged up with the sediment that could block drainage canals and cause flooding. These areas could also experience a disruption to their ecosystems and diminished water quality. So, it's important to hold soil in its place, yet soil erosion, which is the wearing away of topsoil, does happen. In this lesson, you will learn about the specific effects of soil erosion and measures that can be taken to prevent it.

Causes of Soil Erosion

Soil erosion occurs when natural forces, such as wind and water, act on the soil. Man can also cause soil erosion by such practices as tilling a farmer's field or the clearing of vegetation. Clearing vegetation removes the protection of plants and roots needed to lock soil in place. Basically, the more exposed or heavily tilled soil is, the more likely it is to erode during rain or windstorms.

Effects of Soil Erosion

Soil erosion impacts the agricultural industry as well as the natural environment. The effects of soil erosion can be felt both on-site, meaning at the site of soil disruption, or off-site, meaning the location where the eroded soil deposits. Let's start by building our understanding of the impact of soil erosion on-site. When the topsoil is eroded from an area, that area loses its most nutrient-rich layer, and therefore soil quality is reduced.

Poor soil quality means smaller crop yields and may even wash away seeds and small plants. This may call for more of a need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides, which can run off of fields and contaminate waterways. Also, when the organic matter that is found within the top layer of soil is removed, it can weaken the soil's ability to hold water, leaving the field susceptible to weather conditions such as droughts.

The soil that is carried away has to go somewhere, and this leads to off-site problems. As mentioned, when soil is carried away from a farmer's field by water, it carries with it contaminants, such as fertilizers and pesticides. This runoff can cause water pollution that contaminates drinking water and disrupts ecosystems of lakes and wetlands. This negatively impacts the fish and wildlife that depend on these downstream waters for food and habitat. Sediments that accumulate down slope of the erosion can obstruct the flow of water in streams and drainage canals, leading to flooding.

As we see, much of the effects of soil erosion are the result of water erosion. But, wind erosion can also transport topsoil and weaken soil quality. Wind can also damage young seedlings by blasting them with sand and other small particles. Wind also distributes topsoil, which might uncover and expose some seedlings, while at the same time, burying other seedlings too deep. Also, when farmer's fields undergo excessive tillage, meaning that the field is worked too hard in preparation for planting, the soil structure can be lost, making it more susceptible to erosion.

Prevention of Soil Erosion

There are ways to avoid and manage soil erosion. One of the best ways to prevent soil erosion is to increase vegetation. Plants and trees grow above the surface, protecting soil from erosion, and their roots meander down through the soil and become like bars in a prison, locking the soil particles in place, making it hard for them to escape and be carried away by water.

Embankments and sloped land are most vulnerable to erosion due to gravity. So, adding plants, shrubs and other vegetation to these areas is important. Vegetation not only locks in water, it can keep wind away. For example, if an area is vulnerable to damaging winds, a natural windbreaker created by trees planted across the wind's direction acts like a wall, cutting down on wind erosion.

Because soil erosion is such an important issue to farmers, any practice that will help prevent water runoff or helps to maintain the strength of the soil structure will be beneficial. Terracing is an option for controlling erosion on sloped land by cutting in flat surfaces. When land is sloped, water runs down the slope, so by cutting steps or terraces into a slope, a farmer's field will have an easier time holding water. A field that contains terraces looks like a stairway for a giant.

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