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People Cause More Soil Erosion Than All Natural Processes

Date:
November 4, 2004
Source:
University Of Michigan
Summary:
Human activity causes 10 times more erosion of continental surfaces than all natural processes combined, an analysis by a University of Michigan geologist shows.

Soil and rock particles derived from the glacial, riverine, and agricultural erosion of east-central North America enter the Gulf of Mexico as muddy water along the delta of the Mississippi River.
Credit: Image courtesy of University Of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. --- Human activity causes 10 times more erosion of continental surfaces than all natural processes combined, an analysis by a University of Michigan geologist shows.

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People have been the main cause of worldwide erosion since early in the first millennium, said Bruce Wilkinson, a U-M professor of geological sciences. Wilkinson will present his findings Nov. 8 at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, Colo.

Many researchers have tried to assess the impact of human activity on soil loss, but most have only guessed at how erosion due to natural forces such as glaciers and rivers compares with that caused by human activity---mainly agriculture and construction, Wilkinson said. He used existing data on sedimentary rock distributions and abundances to calculate rates of natural erosion.

"If you ask how fast erosion takes place over geologic time---say over the last 500 million years---on average, you get about 60 feet every million years," Wilkinson said. In those parts of the United States where soil is being eroded by human agricultural activity, however, the rate averages around 1,500 feet per million years, and rates are even higher in other parts of the world. Natural processes operate over areas larger than those affected by agriculture and construction, but even taking that into account, "the bottom line is, we move about 10 times as much sediment as all natural processes put together," he said.

Because soil formation proceeds at about the same rate as natural erosion, Wilkinson's results mean that humans are stripping soil from the surface of the Earth far faster than nature can replace it.

"This situation is particularly critical," Wilkinson said, "because the Earth's human population is growing rapidly and because almost all potentially arable land is now under the plow."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Michigan. "People Cause More Soil Erosion Than All Natural Processes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041103234736.htm>.
University Of Michigan. (2004, November 4). People Cause More Soil Erosion Than All Natural Processes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 3, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041103234736.htm
University Of Michigan. "People Cause More Soil Erosion Than All Natural Processes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041103234736.htm (accessed March 3, 2015).

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