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Erosion is the biggest cause of soil degradation. Soil productivity is reduced as a result of losses of nutrients, water storage capacity and organic matter. The two agents of erosion are wind and water, which act to remove the finer particles from the soil. This leads to soil compaction and poor soil tilth. Human activities such as construction, logging, and off-road vehicle use promote erosion by removing the natural vegetation cover protecting the soil.

Agricultural practices such as overgrazing and leaving plowed fields bare for extended periods contribute to farmland erosion. Each year, an estimated two billion metric tons of soil are eroded from farmlands in the United States alone. The soil transported by the erosion processes can also create problems elsewhere (e.g. by clogging waterways and filling ditches and low-lying land areas).

Wind erosion occurs mostly in flat, dry areas and moist, sandy areas along bodies of water. Wind not only removes soil, but also dries and degrades the soil structure. During the 1930s, poor cultivation and grazing practices -- coupled with severe drought conditions -- led to severe wind erosion of soil in a region of the Great Plains that became known as the "Dust Bowl." Wind stripped large areas of farmlands of topsoil, and formed clouds of dust that traveled as far as the eastern United States.

Water erosion is the most prevalent type of erosion. It occurs in several forms: rain splash erosion, sheet erosion, rill erosion and gully erosion. Rain splash erosion occurs when the force of individual raindrops hitting uncovered ground splashes soil particles into the air. These detached particles are more easily transported and can be further splashed down slope, causing deterioration of the soil structure. Sheet erosion occurs when water moves down slope as a thin film and removes a uniform layer of soil. Rill erosion is the most common form of water erosion and often develops from sheet erosion. Soil is removed as water flows through little streamlets across the land. Gully erosion occurs when rills enlarge and flow together, forming a deep gully.

When considerable quantities of salt accumulate in the soil in a process known as salinization , many plants are unable to grow properly or even survive. This is especially a problem in irrigated farmland. Groundwater used for irrigation contains small amounts of dissolved salts. Irrigation water that is not absorbed into the soil evaporates, leaving the salts behind. This process repeats itself and eventually severe salinization of the soil occurs. A related problem is water logging of the soil. When cropland is irrigated with excessive amounts of water in order to leach salts that have accumulated in the soil, the excess water is sometimes unable to drain away properly. In this case it accumulates underground and causes a rise in the subsurface water table. If the saline water rises to the level of the plant roots, plant growth is inhibited.

Soil conservation

Because soil degradation is often caused by human activity, soil conservation usually requires changes in those activities. Soil conservation is very important to agriculture, so various conservation methods have been devised to halt or minimize soil degradation during farming. These methods include: construction of windbreaks, no-till farming, contour farming, terracing, strip cropping and agroforestry.

Creating windbreaks by planting tall trees along the perimeter of farm fields can help control the effects of wind erosion. Windbreaks reduce wind speed at ground level, an important factor in wind erosion. They also help trap snow in the winter months, leaving soil less exposed. As a side benefit, windbreaks also provide a habitat for birds and animals. One drawback is that windbreaks can be costly to farmers because they reduce the amount of available cropland.

One of the easiest ways to prevent wind and water erosion of croplands is to minimize the amount of tillage , or turning over of the soil. In no-till agriculture (also called conservation tillage), the land is disturbed as little as possible by leaving crop residue in the fields. Special seed drills inject new seeds and fertilizer into the unplowed soil. A drawback of this method is that the crop residue can serve as a good habitat for insect pests and plant diseases.

Contour farming involves plowing and planting crop rows along the natural contours of gently sloping land. The lines of crop rows perpendicular to the slope help to slow water runoff and thus inhibit the formation of rills and gullies. Terracing is a common technique used to control water erosion on more steeply sloped hills and mountains. Broad, level terraces are constructed along the contours of the slopes, and these act as dams trapping water for crops and reducing runoff.

Strip cropping involves the planting of different crops on alternating strips of land. One crop is usually a row crop such as corn, while the other is a ground-covering crop such as alfalfa. The cover crop helps reduce water runoff and traps soil eroded from the row crop. If the cover crop is a nitrogen-fixing plant (e.g. alfalfa, soybeans), then alternating the strips from one planting to the next can also help maintain topsoil fertility.

Agroforestry is the process of planting rows of trees interspersed with a cash crop. Besides helping to prevent wind and water erosion of the soil, the trees provide shade which helps promote soil moisture retention. Decaying tree litter also provides some nutrients for the interplanted crops. The trees themselves may provide a cash crop. For example, fruit or nut trees may be planted with a grain crop.

Questions & Answers

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
Berger describes sociologists as concerned with
Mueller Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Ap environmental science. OpenStax CNX. Sep 25, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10548/1.2
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