Erosion: The ultimate long game. Our environment and the world we live on supports and shelters us. We humans naturally see things in the short-term; but if you zoom out a few centuries, it’s suddenly easy to see that the world around us is changing—and it’s changing dramatically. One of the forces contributing to this change is erosion.
Presenting a true double-edged sword, the forces of erosion have presented us with fantastic natural beauties—as well as slowly melting away the lands on which we live and brushing away our natural resources. In some regions of the world, erosion has catapulted a new industry to the top: for example, erosion control in South Africa is a major priority for engineers to handle.
What Is Erosion?
Erosion is a natural, geographical process. Characterized mainly by the whittling away of materials related to the earth by natural means such as wind and water, erosion isn’t totally a bad thing. For example, many of the natural wonders of the world (including canyons and mountain ranges and more) were carved through the natural processes of erosion.
However, just as it can benefit the world, erosion can also present a problem if not managed with care.
What are the Dangers of Erosion?
The dangers associated with erosion are clear, if seemingly undramatic because they happen over thousands of years. The most clear-cut danger associated with erosion is with soil.
Soil erosion is the process by which the natural topsoil which covers the ground is diluted, stripped of its minerals, or simply washed away by water or wind or other forces. As topsoil is a material which creates a natural nutrient-rich blanket for the world out of which grows most of the planet’s plant-based resources, this could be a huge problem.
Unfortunately, studies are beginning to indicate that this process of soil erosion is speeding up, with rates of erosion now occurring between 10 and 40 times faster than the soil is naturally being replenished. A very large area of topsoil is completely destroyed during the interim of each and every year, one study found—an area as big as the state of Indiana in the United States of America.
While this might not seem very large, the fact that we are losing soil more quickly than we are gaining it should be a fact of concern to everyone. Especially in smaller countries, in countries where the topography and environment favor erosion, and in communities where farming is the main source of income, the process of erosion control is beginning to step into the spotlight.
What is Erosion Control?
Fortunately, scientists and engineers have teamed up over the past decade to figure out a natural and cost-effective way to stop erosion in its tracks. As part of the larger framework of erosion control which seeks to stop water, wind, and all forms of erosion in its tracks, soil erosion control hopes to make farming and our natural landscapes possible and protectable for years to come.
Currently, the main method of soil erosion control involve geocells: man-made materials which are specifically engineered to create a durable armor for topsoil. They both stabilize the natural shape of the ground wherever they are laid as well as help to improve drainage (itself another worry in the agriculture world). Geocells help nourish, create, and maintain a green ground cover, making it an optimal solution for landscaping as well as soil protection.
Ultimately, these geo-cells can be thought of as a kind of multi-vitamin for the soil as well as a natural shield for the ground, protecting them against the forces of erosion for years to come.
There’s another factor to concern people when it comes to erosion. In South Africa, particularly, one of the main reasons that scientists wish to control erosion is because of the after-effect: the fact that a large amount of soil which was previously safely tamped down in the banks. This mobilized soil can make a lot of problems for infrastructure, especially in small towns.
Erosion is a natural process which has yielded many of the world’s most beautiful and enduring masterpieces. It’s also a process which is slowly brushing away one of our most treasured early resources: the topsoil which enables all plant life to thrive. Engineers are working on solutions to ensure that the rate at which the topsoil leaves is not one that will leave us without any soil in the future!