Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Soil is essential, non-renewable, and disappearing

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The headline on the article below borders on yellow journalism (I hope I sufficiently toned down my own headline above), but the problem of soil erosion is very, very real. If there’s any doubt in your mind, head to the rural Midwest and take a look at a church yard nestled amongst the corn and soybean fields. The churchyard will be six to ten feet higher than the surrounding farm fields.

Why? Modern industrial agriculture, the methods widely practiced around the world, too often leads to massive amounts of erosion. The soil simply blows away or is washed downstream.

Deforestation leads to more erosion as plants that would have held the soil, and the water essential to healthy soil, are removed for timber or to make way for agriculture. The crops may be beneficial to the soils, a nice symbiotic relationship common in systems untouched by humans, but if the soil is left bare for months at a time, as is usually the case in the Midwestern US during the winter, that soil is still highly vulnerable to erosion, hence the church yard phenomenon.

Civilization’s Foundation Eroding

September 28, 2010

Lester R. Brown

The thin layer of topsoil that covers the planet’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. This soil, typically 6 inches or so deep, was formed over long stretches of geological time as new soil formation exceeded the natural rate of erosion. But sometime within the last century, as human and livestock populations expanded, soil erosion began to exceed new soil formation over large areas.

Sinai Desert
Credit: iStock Photo/stevenallan

[…]

In a section of his report entitled “The Hundred Dead Cities,” he described a site in northern Syria, near Aleppo, where ancient buildings were still standing in stark isolated relief, but they were on bare rock. During the seventh century, the thriving region had been invaded, initially by a Persian army and later by nomads out of the Arabian Desert. In the process, soil and water conservation practices used for centuries were abandoned. Lowdermilk noted, “Here erosion had done its worst….if the soils had remained, even though the cities were destroyed and the populations dispersed, the area might be re-peopled again and the cities rebuilt, but now that the soils are gone, all is gone.”

[…]
During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. This overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl, a traumatic period chronicled in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In a crash program to save its soils, the United States returned large areas of eroded cropland to grass, adopted strip-cropping, and planted thousands of miles of tree shelterbelts.

Amazon Deforested

Credit: iStock Photo/Brasil2

During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. This overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl, a traumatic period chronicled in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In a crash program to save its soils, the United States returned large areas of eroded cropland to grass, adopted strip-cropping, and planted thousands of miles of tree shelterbelts.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

September 29th, 2010 at 7:56 am