Land degradation

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Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining Karst following phosphate mining on Nauru.jpg
Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land. [1] It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. [2] Natural hazards are excluded as a cause; however human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

Biophysical environment surrounding of an organism or population

A biophysical environment is a biotic and abiotic surrounding of an organism or population, and consequently includes the factors that have an influence in their survival, development, and evolution. A biophysical environment can vary in scale from microscopic to global in extent. It can also be subdivided according to its attributes. Examples include the marine environment, the atmospheric environment and the terrestrial environment. The number of biophysical environments is countless, given that each living organism has its own environment.

Human impact on the environment human impacts on environment

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include human reproduction, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and overpopulation causes those problems.

A natural hazard is a natural phenomenon that might have a negative effect on humans or the environment. Natural hazard events can be classified into two broad categories: geophysical and biological. Geophysical hazards encompass geological and meteorological phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, cyclonic storms, floods, droughts, avalanches and landslides. Biological hazards can refer to a diverse array of disease, infection, infestation and invasive species.

Contents

This is considered to be an important topic of the 21st century due to the implications land degradation has upon agronomic productivity, the environment, and its effects on food security. [3] It is estimated that up to 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded. [4]

The 21st (twenty-first) century is the current century of the Anno Domini era or Common Era, in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. It began on January 1, 2001, and will end on December 31, 2100. It is the first century of the 3rd millennium. It is distinct from the century known as the 2000s which began on January 1, 2000 and will end on December 31, 2099.

Food security is a measure of the availability of food and individuals' accessibility to it, where accessibility includes affordability. There is evidence of food security being a concern over 10,000 years ago, with central authorities in ancient China and ancient Egypt being known to release food from storage in times of famine. At the 1974 World Food Conference the term "food security" was defined with an emphasis on supply. Food security, they said, is the "availability at all times of adequate, nourishing, diverse, balanced and moderate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices". Later definitions added demand and access issues to the definition. The final report of the 1996 World Food Summit states that food security "exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life".

Measures

There are four main ways of looking at land degradation and its impact on the environment around it:

  1. A temporary or permanent decline in the productive capacity of the land. This can be seen through a loss of biomass, a loss of actual productivity or in potential productivity, or a loss or change in vegetative cover and soil nutrients.
  2. Action in the land's capacity to provide resources for human livelihoods. This can be measured from a base line of past land use.
  3. Loss of biodiversity: A loss of range of species or ecosystem complexity as a decline in the environmental quality.
  4. Shifting ecological risk: increased vulnerability of the environment or people to destruction or crisis. This is measured through a base line in the form of pre-existing risk of crisis or destruction.

A problem with defining land degradation is that what one group of people might view as degradation, others might view as a benefit or opportunity. For example, planting crops at a location with heavy rainfall and steep slopes would create scientific and environmental concern regarding the risk of soil erosion by water, yet farmers could view the location as a favourable one for high crop yields. [5]

Crop Plant or animal product which can be grown and harvested

A crop is a plant or animal product that can be grown and harvested extensively for profit or subsistence. Crop may refer either to the harvested parts or to the harvest in a more refined state. Most crops are cultivated in agriculture or aquaculture. A crop is usually expanded to include macroscopic fungus, or alga (algaculture).

In agriculture, crop yield refers to both the measure of the yield of a crop per unit area of land cultivation, and the seed generation of the plant itself. That figure, 1:3, is considered by agronomists as the minimum required to sustain human life

Different types

Potato field with soil erosion A potato field with soil erosion.jpg
Potato field with soil erosion

In addition to the usual types of land degradation that have been known for centuries (water, wind and mechanical erosion, physical, chemical and biological degradation), four other types have emerged in the last 50 years: [6]

Erosion Processes which remove soil and rock from one place on the Earths crust, then transport it to another location where it is deposited

In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, and then transports it to another location. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolic) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. The particulate breakdown of rock or soil into clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion; this contrasts with chemical erosion, where soil or rock material is removed from an area by its dissolving into a solvent, followed by the flow away of that solution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Pollution introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light. Pollutants, the components of pollution, can be either foreign substances/energies or naturally occurring contaminants. Pollution is often classed as point source or nonpoint source pollution. In 2015, pollution killed 9 million people in the world.

Mining The extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth

Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, usually from an ore body, lode, vein, seam, reef or placer deposit. These deposits form a mineralized package that is of economic interest to the miner.

Land loss process of land area being converted to water, whether by erosion, subsidence, or water level rise

Land loss is the term typically used to refer to the conversion of coastal land to open water by natural processes and human activities. The term land loss includes coastal erosion. It is much broader term than coastal erosion because land loss also includes land converted to open water around the edges of estuaries and interior bays and lakes and by subsidence of coastal plain wetlands. The most important causes of land loss in coastal plains are erosion, inadequate sediment supply to beaches and wetlands, subsidence, and global sea level rise. The mixture of processes responsible for most of the land loss will vary occurring the specific part of a coastal plain being examined. The definition of and loss does not include the loss of coastal lands to agriculture, urbanization, or other development.

Overall, more than 36 types of land degradation can be assessed. All are induced or aggravated by human activities, e.g. sheet erosion, silting, aridification, salinization, urbanization, etc.

Sheet erosion or sheet wash is the even erosion of substrate along a wide area. Sheet erosion occur in wide range of settings such as coastal plains, hillslopes, floodplains and beaches. Water moving fairly uniformly with a similar thickness over a surface is called sheet flow and is the cause of sheet erosion. Sheet erosion imply that any flow of water that causes the erosion is not canalized. If a hillsplope surface contains many irregularities sheet erosion may give way to erosion along small channels called rills which can converge forming gullies. However, sheet erosion may occur despite some limited unevenness in the sheet flow arising from clods of earth, rock fragments, or vegetation.

Aridification is the process of a region becoming increasingly dry. It refers to long term change rather than seasonal variation.

Soil salinity process of increasing the salt content

Soil salinity is the salt content in the soil; the process of increasing the salt content is known as salinization. Salts occur naturally within soils and water. Salination can be caused by natural processes such as mineral weathering or by the gradual withdrawal of an ocean. It can also come about through artificial processes such as irrigation and road salt.

Causes

Overgrazing by livestock can lead to land degradation Cattle.jpg
Overgrazing by livestock can lead to land degradation

Land degradation caused by mining as it cause landslides Land degradation is a global problem largely related to agricultural use. Causes include:

Effects

Soil erosion in a wheat field near Pullman, US Erosion.jpg
Soil erosion in a wheat field near Pullman, US

Overcutting of vegetation occurs when people cut forests, woodlands and shrublands—to obtain timber, fuelwood and other products—at a pace exceeding the rate of natural regrowth. This is frequent in semi-arid environments, where fuelwood shortages are often severe.

Overgrazing is the grazing of natural pastures at stocking intensities above the livestock carrying capacity; the resulting decrease in the vegetation cover is a leading cause of wind and water erosion. It is a significant factor in Afghanistan. The growing population pressure, during 1980–1990, has led to decreases in the already small areas of agricultural land per person in six out of eight countries (14% for India and 21% for Pakistan).

Population pressure also operates through other mechanisms. Improper agricultural practices, for instance, occur only under constraints such as the saturation of good lands under population pressure which leads settlers to cultivate too shallow or too steep soils, plough fallow land before it has recovered its fertility, or attempt to obtain multiple crops by irrigating unsuitable soils.

High population density is not always related to land degradation. Rather, it is the practices of the human population that can cause a landscape to become degraded. Populations can be a benefit to the land and make it more productive than it is in its natural state. Land degradation is an important factor of internal displacement in many African and Asian countries. [8]

Severe land degradation affects a significant portion of the Earth's arable lands, decreasing the wealth and economic development of nations. As the land resource base becomes less productive, food security is compromised and competition for dwindling resources increases, the seeds of famine and potential conflict are sown.

Sensitivity and resilience

Sensitivity and resilience are measures of the vulnerability of a landscape to degradation. These two factors combine to explain the degree of vulnerability. [5] Sensitivity is the degree to which a land system undergoes change due to natural forces, human intervention or a combination of both. Resilience is the ability of a landscape to absorb change, without significantly altering the relationship between the relative importance and numbers of individuals and species that compose the community. [9] It also refers to the ability of the region to return to its original state after being changed in some way. The resilience of a landscape can be increased or decreased through human interaction based upon different methods of land-use management. Land that is degraded becomes less resilient than undegraded land, which can lead to even further degradation through shocks to the landscape.

Climate change

Significant land degradation from seawater inundation, particularly in river deltas and on low-lying islands, is a potential hazard that was identified in a 2007 IPCC report.

IPCC
Assessment reports:
First (1990)
1992 sup.
Second (1995)
Third (2001)
Fourth (2007)
Fifth (2014)
Sixth (2022)
UNFCCC | WMO | UNEP

As a result of sea-level rise from climate change, salinity levels can reach levels where agriculture becomes impossible in very low-lying areas.

See also

Related Research Articles

Desertification

Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change and through the overexploitation of soil through human activity. When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet's life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual "soil death" can be spoken of, which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions.

Soil retrogression and degradation are two regressive evolution processes associated with the loss of equilibrium of a stable soil. Retrogression is primarily due to soil erosion and corresponds to a phenomenon where succession reverts the land to its natural physical state. Degradation is an evolution, different from natural evolution, related to the local climate and vegetation. It is due to the replacement of primary plant communities by the secondary communities. This replacement modifies the humus composition and amount, and affects the formation of the soil. It is directly related to human activity. Soil degradation may also be viewed as any change or ecological disturbance to the soil perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Soil erosion washing or blowing away of the top layer of soil

Soil erosion is the displacement of the upper layer of soil, one form of soil degradation. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolean) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. Soil erosion may be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed, or it may occur at an alarming rate causing a serious loss of topsoil. The loss of soil from farmland may be reflected in reduced crop production potential, lower surface water quality and damaged drainage networks.

Shifting cultivation agricultural system in which land is cultivated temporarily then abandoned to revert to their natural vegetation

Shifting cultivation is an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, then abandoned and allowed to revert to their natural vegetation while the cultivator moves on to another plot. The period of cultivation is usually terminated when the soil shows signs of exhaustion or, more commonly, when the field is overrun by weeds. The length of time that a field is cultivated is usually shorter than the period over which the land is allowed to regenerate by lying fallow. This technique is often used in LEDCs or LICs. In some areas, cultivators use a practice of slash-and-burn as one element of their farming cycle. Others employ land clearing without any burning, and some cultivators are purely migratory and do not use any cyclical method on a given plot. Sometimes no slashing at all is needed where regrowth is purely of grasses, an outcome not uncommon when soils are near exhaustion and need to lie fallow. In shifting agriculture, after two or three years of producing vegetable and grain crops on cleared land, the migrants abandon it for another plot. Land is often cleared by slash-and-burn methods—trees, bushes and forests are cleared by slashing, and the remaining vegetation is burnt. The ashes add potash to the soil. Then the seeds are sown after the rains.

Ecological health is a term that has been used in relation to both human health and the condition of the environment.

Environmental degradation

Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. As indicated by the I=PAT equation, environmental impact (I) or degradation is caused by the combination of an already very large and increasing human population (P), continually increasing economic growth or per capita affluence (A), and the application of resource-depleting and polluting technology (T).

Environmental issues in Haiti

Environmental issues in Haiti include an historical deforestation problem, overpopulation, a lack of sanitation, natural disasters, and food insecurity. A major reason for these environmental issues is that there is not sufficient protection or management of the country's natural resources. Other environmental issues, such as decreases in precipitation and more severe natural disasters, will likely arise in Haiti as a result of climate change. Experts agree that Haiti needs to adopt new policies to address both the issues that already exist and to prepare for the effects of climate change.

Environmental issues in Nepal include pollution, overpopulation, deforestation, energy and species conservation.

African environmental issues are caused by anthropogenic effects on the African natural environment and have major impacts on humans and nearly all forms of endemic life. Issues include desertification, problems with access to safe water supply, population explosion and fauna depletion. These issues are ultimately linked to over-population in Africa, as well as on a global scale. Nearly all of Africa's environmental problems are geographically variable and human induced, though not necessarily by Africans.

Dryland salinity is a natural process for soil, just like other processes such as wind erosion. Salinity degrades land by an increase in soil salt concentration in the environment, watercourse or soil in unirrigated landscapes, being in excess of normal soil salt concentrations in dryland regions.

Deforestation during the Roman period was a result of the geographical expansion of the Roman Empire, with its increased population, large-scale agriculture, and unprecedented economic development. Roman expansion marks the transition in the Mediterranean from prehistory to the historical period beginning around 500 BC. Earth sustained a few million people 8,000 years ago and was still fundamentally pristine, but Rome drove human development in Western Europe and was a leading contributor of the deforestation around the Mediterranean.

Soil resilience refers to the ability of a soil to resist or recover their healthy state in response to destabilising influences. This is a subset of a notion of environmental resilience.

Environmental impact of irrigation

The environmental impacts of irrigation relate to the changes in quantity and quality of soil and water as a result of irrigation and the effects on natural and social conditions in river basins and downstream of an irrigation scheme. The impacts stem from the altered hydrological conditions caused by the installation and operation of the irrigation scheme.

Environmental impact of agriculture agricultures impact on the environment

The environmental impact of agriculture is the effect that different farming practices have on the ecosystems around them, and how those effects can be traced back to those practices. The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature.

Deforestation in Madagascar

Deforestation in Madagascar is an ongoing environmental issue. Deforestation creates agricultural or pastoral land but can also result in desertification, water resource degradation, biodiversity erosion and habitat loss, and soil loss.

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a significant transnational issue. In the DRC, forests are cleared for agricultural purposes by utilizing slash and burn techniques.

Environmental issues in Sri Lanka

Environmental issues in Sri Lanka include large-scale logging of forests and degradation of mangroves, coral reefs and soil. Air pollution and water pollution are challenges for Sri Lanka since both cause negative health impacts. Insufficient waste management, especially in rural areas, leads to environmental pollution. Sri Lanka is also vulnerable to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events and sea level rise.

References

  1. Conacher, Arthur; Conacher, Jeanette (1995). Rural Land Degradation in Australia. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press Australia. p. 2. ISBN   0-19-553436-0.
  2. Johnson, D.L., S.H. Ambrose, T.J. Bassett, M.L. Bowen, D.E. Crummey, J.S. Isaacson, D.N. Johnson, P. Lamb, M. Saul, and A.E. Winter-Nelson. 1997. Meanings of environmental terms. Journal of Environmental Quality 26: 581–589.
  3. Eswaran, H.; R. Lal; P.F. Reich (2001). "Land degradation: an overview". Responses to Land Degradation. Proc. 2nd. International Conference on Land Degradation and Desertification. New Delhi: Oxford Press. Archived from the original on 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  4. Ian Sample (2007-08-31). "Global food crisis looms as climate change and population growth strip fertile land". The Guardian . Retrieved 2008-07-23.
  5. 1 2 Stockings, Mike; Murnaghan, Niamh. (2000), Land Degradation - Guidelines for Field Assessment (PDF), Norwich, UK, pp. 7–15
  6. Brabant Pierre, 2010. A land degradation assessment and mapping method. A standard guideline proposal. Les dossiers thématiques du CSFD. N°8. November 2010. CSFD/Agropolis International, Montpellier, France. 52 pp.
  7. ILRI (1989), Effectiveness and Social/Environmental Impacts of Irrigation Projects: a Review (PDF), In: Annual Report 1988 of the International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), Wageningen, The Netherlands, pp. 18–34
  8. Terminski, Bogumil, Towards Recognition and Protection of Forced Environmental Migrants in the Public International Law: Refugee or IDPs Umbrella (December 1, 2011). Policy Studies Organization (PSO) Summit, December 2011
  9. Johnson, Douglas; Lewis, Lawrence. (2007), Land Degradation; Creation and Destruction, Maryland, US

Further reading