What Is Erosion?

erosion Credit: Jonas Bengtsson/CC-BY 2.0

Erosion is a natural process in which rocks or soil are moved from one location to another by wind or water. Material may move through erosion for distances ranging from a few feet to thousands of miles. Erosion often is most noticeable along shorelines, but it occurs in a variety of areas throughout the world.

Erosion occurs naturally, but human activity has increased the incidence of erosion by 10 to 40 times globally. Excessive erosion affects agriculture and the flow of bodies of water. It affects various ecosystems and can lead to the endangerment or extinction of species that lose habitat or food sources.

The condition of soil plays a role in the susceptibility of an area to erosion. When water can easily soak through soil, it is less likely to run off and take soil with it. The amount and condition of plants on the surface of soil also affect how easily erosion occurs. Grasses and other plants help slow water runoff and make it easier for water to permeate the soil. Climate also plays a role in erosion. Areas with a great deal of rain can experience significant runoff and resulting erosion. Very dry areas may have erosion from dry soils blowing away.

Various factors intensify and speed up erosion. Intensive farming, climate change, cutting down trees and construction of roads and buildings all affect erosion.