Soil & Erosion: Definition, Types, Causes & Prevention

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  • 0:00 What Is Erosion?
  • 0:41 Types of Soil
  • 1:47 Types of Erosion
  • 2:34 Effects of Erosion
  • 3:30 How to Prevent Erosion
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

One of the most important things that we can do to ensure the health of our crops and nearby ecosystems is to reduce erosion. This lesson explains the relationship between soil and erosion, as well as ways to stop erosion.

What Is Erosion?

When you were a kid, did you ever play in the mud? There's no shame in it - personally, I don't judge. Maybe you made mud pies, working hard to get the consistency just right. What happened when you put too much water in the mix? The whole thing got really runny and ended up falling apart, right? More likely, what did your mom say when she saw you making mud pies in her flowerbed? Chances are she wasn't so happy. Of course, the thought of having a child rolling around her precious begonias was only half of the risk. If you spilled too much water, chances are her topsoil would become victim to erosion. Soil erosion is the process by which the topsoil is removed.

Types of Soil

So what makes this topsoil so important? Soil is made up of three distinct parts - sand, clay, and silt. Silt is about the consistency of ashes and holds onto water really well. The problem is that silt can be easily removed. Sand, on the other hand, is slightly larger. This means that excess water drains out, but so do nutrients. Clay, on the other hand, is made up of really tiny particles, which means that there is little space for water to move through it. In other words, it turns to paste when even a little water is added: This is why clay is used by potters.

So what does any of this have to do with topsoil? All three parts of soil are present in topsoil, but so are a bunch of organic materials. From fertilizers to decaying plants, this organic material gives anything growing in the soil a great deal of potential. The problem is that these organic materials can only go so deep into the soil. Therefore, the topsoil is the most fertile soil, and losing it can be a disaster.

Types of Erosion

So erosion removes topsoil, but how? While there are many types of erosion, all have the same basic process - the removal of topsoil by wind or water.

Wind erosion happens when wind gusts blow away unsecured soil.

Bank erosion happens when bodies of water sap away the topsoil near its shores.

Sheet erosion affects a whole area, when water or the wind act like a broom to clear out the topsoil.

Rill and gully erosion happen when impromptu streams form for water to carry away topsoil. The only different is the size - a rill may only be a few inches wide, but a gully could be meters across.

Effects of Erosion

Needless to say, erosion is a problem. But what is the effect of all that topsoil flying away? For starters, topsoil is pretty fertile stuff. Without topsoil, farmers have the choice of either not planting crops or using expensive fertilizers. Most farmers choose the fertilizer. Still, erosion can affect these as well. In fact, when fertilizers are washed away by water, we call it runoff, and it can have serious environmental consequences.

It's not just the man-made fertilizers that cause damage. Think about all that topsoil - it has to go somewhere, right? Now, when you were making those mud pies, you didn't actually expect anyone to eat them, did you? Of course not, dirt is full of germs. However, when that topsoil ends up in streams and rivers, the animals that live in and around them often don't have a choice. That means that the catfish you just caught could very well taste like mud.

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