Erosion: Definition, Causes & Effects

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  • 0:03 What Is Erosion?
  • 0:36 Water Erosion
  • 1:26 Wind Erosion
  • 2:20 Glacial Erosion
  • 2:51 Erosion Caused by Humans
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Lydia DiGiovanni

Lydia has taught middle school math, physics and chemistry. She is also a teacher of psychology and has a master's degree in teaching and educational leadership.

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

In this lesson, we'll define erosion and discuss the causes of erosion such as wind, water, glaciers, and people. Furthermore, we'll discuss how these factors effect landforms on the earth's surface.

What Is Erosion?

Erosion is a process that describes continuous physical and chemical events which causes soil and rock on the Earth's surface to loosen and move to a new location. To understand erosion, you can think of a built snowman or sandcastle, depending on where you live. It doesn't take long before factors like wind, water, and even people can transform the snowman into a slushy pile of snow or for the sandcastle to be washed away by the ocean. Likewise, these factors cause erosion to take place on the earth's surface, effecting landforms like mountains, soil, rivers, and sea coasts.

Water Erosion

Water plays a large part in the erosion of rocks because it transports these weathered and non-weathered materials away from its primary source. The breaking down and loosening of rock and soil into smaller pieces is known as weathering. The movement of these weathered materials is erosion. Although weathering (breaking down of rock) plays a role in erosion, it is not the same as erosion itself.

Moving water, such as currents in a river or ocean, also plays a major role since it transports Earth's materials from one place to another. Rivers may be discolored by the large amounts of sediment they carry as they wind their way to the sea. Once these particles are settled and have accumulated to a new location, it is called deposition.

Water also erodes the land by the means of ocean waves and currents, and once the particles are settled and deposited (due to erosion), they are responsible for changing coastlines.

Wind Erosion

Wind carries sediment (earth particles) from place to place. It can also increase the erosional effects of water. For example, by the time a raindrop hits the soil, it can be traveling as fast as 19 mph. At this speed, it can steadfastly break down soil and rock material and make it easier for erosion to take place and transport its materials to another location. One can see the effects of wind in areas with little to no rain or land that's too dry and barren to support vegetation. An example of this are the dust bowls in the Midwest that occurred during the Great Depression.

Wind brings about the erosion of rocks driven by sand and soil particles not held tightly together nor protected by vegetation. The removal of loose sand and dry soil particles is called deflation. This wind action continues until the strength and speed of the wind can no longer move these loose particles, which end up colliding and clinging together on the land surface.

Glacial Erosion

Ice acts most powerfully as an agent of erosion in the form of glaciers. A glacier, large and slow moving, may remove and carry hundreds, thousands, and even tons of rock debris.

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Additional Activities

Wind Erosion Experiment

In this experiment, the student is tasked with creating a model or system to observe the effect of wind erosion. This will show students how sediments settle down and deposit.


  • Soil samples (with and without grass, respectively)
  • Large drinking straw
  • Shoe box with cover


  1. Place the shoe box on a sturdy table and cut an opening in one of its ends. The hole in the box should be made in its upper portion and should be just big enough to insert the drinking straw. You can use a pencil to poke a hole through the box. This box will then serve as the container of the soil sample.
  2. Spread soil evenly in the container, just enough to fill it to a considerable height and obstruct the hole for the straw.
  3. At the center of the box, make a small mound composed of soil. Press it gently to compress the soil.
  4. Put the cover on the shoe box and make sure that this is not loose.
  5. Blow air once into the box, remove the cover, and record your observations regarding the height of the mound and degree of scattered particles.
  6. Cover the box, but now blow air twice into the box, then blow air three times into the box. Record your observations for each part.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6 but with a mound composed of soil with grass.


  1. What is the degree of erosion in the soil mound when you increase the times that you blow air into the box?
  2. Did you observe soil particles deposited within the box? If yes, what do these particles resemble and what is this phenomena?
  3. For the mound containing grass, what can you say about the degree of erosion? Is the erosion here more drastic compared to that with the soil mound?
  4. How does vegetation play a vital role in reducing wind erosion?

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