What is Rill Erosion?

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  • 0:00 Definition of Water Erosion
  • 0:58 The Erosion Process
  • 2:32 The Erosion Aftermath
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

Rill erosion is just one type of erosion caused by water. Here you will learn what rill erosion is, how it forms, and how it fits in with other types of water erosion.

Definition of Water Erosion

Never underestimate the power of the mighty raindrop. Falling at speeds of up to 20 mph, a raindrop can cause quite the chain reaction. A raindrop can toss a soil particle two feet up in the air and set it down five feet away. Raindrops can also team up and cut deeply into the soil, carrying massive amounts of soil far away.

Erosion, which is the weathering away of soil and rock, can happen by wind, water, or gravity. It's natural, but sometimes people do things to speed up the process or cause it to happen in places where it wouldn't normally. Rill erosion is one type of water erosion, but it is part of a series of events that begin with raindrops falling on bare soil.

The Erosion Process

When a raindrop hits the bare soil with enough force, it breaks up the soil surface. Lighter particles can be carried away, leaving larger particles behind. When the lighter particles settle back onto the soil surface, they can fill up the tiny spaces between other particles, making it nearly impossible for new water to be absorbed, kind of like the way paint fills up the pores of wood, making it harder for water to penetrate. This first stage of water erosion is called splash erosion.

If there is a slight slope, the water and small, loose soil particles start to flow over the surface of the ground in what's called sheet erosion. Just as it sounds, the water and soil flows like a sheet across the ground.

If the downhill flow of water and soil particles starts to cut small channels, then it becomes rill erosion. The channels are usually no deeper than four inches and often form curvy, but parallel paths. As the water flow speeds up, the channels get deeper, but areas with rill erosion can still be easily smoothed out with common machinery.

When the erosion channels get even bigger, though, then it becomes gully erosion. In gully erosion, the channels are at least a foot across and a foot deep.

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