Yardangs in Dasht-e Lut, Iran

Rain, wind and ice constantly wear down the Earth's land surface and transport the resulting broken down rock and soil to the oceans in a process called erosion.

Left unchecked, erosion would transport all the Earth's dry land into the oceans, leaving a water world. It is only the movement of the Earth's plates, which builds mountains, that stops this happening.

Geologists are quite precise about what erosion is: The term erosion only covers the transportation of Earth materials. Rock and soil are altered while still in place by a process referred to as weathering. Weathering often makes rock and soil susceptible to erosion.

Image: The wind eroded ridges in this image are known as yardangs. These examples are in the Dasht-e Lut desert, Iran. (credit: George Steinmetz/SPL)


Yardangs in Dasht-e Lut, Iran Erosion

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In earth science, erosion is the action of exogenic processes which remove soil, regolith and rock from one location on the Earth's crust, then transport it to another location where it is deposited. Eroded sediment may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres. The word erosion derives from erodere in Latin which means "to gnaw away".

While erosion is a natural process, human activities have increased by 10-40 times the rate at which erosion is occurring globally. Excessive (or accelerated) erosion causes both "on-site" and "off-site" problems. On-site impacts include decreases in agricultural productivity and (on natural landscapes) ecological collapse, both because of loss of the nutrient-rich upper soil layers. In some cases, the eventual end result is desertification. Off-site effects include sedimentation of waterways and eutrophication of water bodies, as well as sediment-related damage to roads and houses. Water and wind erosion are the two primary causes of land degradation; combined, they are responsible for about 84% of the global extent of degraded land, making excessive erosion one of the most significant environmental problems world-wide.

Intensive agriculture, deforestation, roads, anthropogenic climate change and urban sprawl are amongst the most significant human activities in regard to their effect on stimulating erosion. However, there are many prevention and remediation practices that can curtail or limit erosion of vulnerable soils.

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