EA5017 Soil Properties and Processes

EA5017: Soil Properties and Processes

Soil-Borne Diseases

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Question: Soil Properties and Processes

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Soil Properties and Processes Assignment

Assignment Task


Choose one of the following topics:

  1. Soils differ in their capability and suitability for various uses. Describe the scientific basisand application of one or more schemes (international, national or state)that definesoil capability.
  2. Choose an essential element (for plants) and describe the factors determining it’s availability to plant roots in soil.
  3. Soils differ in their ‘suppressiveness’ to soil-borne diseases of plants. What are the mechanisms determining suppressiveness to one or more important soil-borne diseases?
  4. Choose an important soil degradation process and describe the mechanisms by which it occurs.

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Soil degradation is the reduction in the soil quality due to improper use. The improper use is mostly as result of agricultural, pastoral or urbanization.  Soil degradation is a critical global problem that is being worsened by the climate change (Hen, 2013). The deterioration comprises of physical, chemical and biological soil components. The degradation may include organic matter loss, reduction in soil fertility, structural condition decline, erosion, salinity acidity and pollution.     Soils comprises of the major world’s biodiversity (Ferreira, 2011). Healthy soils are therefore it is very important ensuring adequate food production and provision of adequate water supply for long duration of time. Soil provide integral; ecosystem services that are very key to the carbon and water cycles (Kihara, 2011). This essay will focus on   soil erosion as from of degradation, its causes and possible prevention measures.

Generally soil degradation results to a permanent or temporary reduction in the productive capacity of the land. This may be indicated be   decrease in the biomass, loss of productivity in some cases there is a shift in the vegetation cover type and soil nutrients (Shi, 2012b). The  capacity of the land to produce resources for human consumption is normally reduced as result of the soil degradation . This can be ascertained by comparing with the bases line productivity of the land in the past.  The biodiversity is also lost, resulting to loss of different plant and animal species due to the reduced environmental quality (Shi, 2012a). Finally the soil degradation may result to changes in the ecological risk, which increase the probability of people to destruct the environment even further. A comparison with the pre -existing    crisis risk can be used to indicate whether the degradation has increases the vulnerability or not (Wang, 2014). There are different from of of soil degradation, some of which include: pollution, erosion, acidity, alkalinity, deforestation among others.

Soil erosion

Soil erosion refers to the   soil particles movement from one place to another either as result of wind or water action. Since the ancient   days erosion has been occurring resulting to the formation of river vallies and shaped hills and mountain (Shi, 2012b). However the increased human activities on the land has accelerated the erosion rates even further leading o reduced productivity of the land.  The rates have become much faster the than the initial natural withering process that result of new soil formation (Wang, 2014). The increases erosion rates eventually result to the deposition of infertile soil layers on formerly crop fertile soils, formation of gullies, and increased siltation in water bodies.  Successful prevention of soil erosion must fully incorporate the control of the human activities since they are the major cause of the land degradation.
Cause of Soil erosion

Soil erosion  may be accelerated  by several human activities  especially I regards to the used  farming activities. Poor agricultural practices such as soil pluoghing on soils that cannot support the cultivated plants (Xu, 2013). Ploughing in areas that receive insufficient rainfall hence the soils cannot support the continued   plant growth which then exposes the soils to soil erosion agents. Removal of vegetation either by burning or deforestation and overgrazing also increases the risk of erosion (Zhang, 2011). Changes in the riparian vegetation such as removal of the trees promotes bank erosion. The increased bank erosion then result to the increased flood peaks as result of the dynamics in the hydrological regimes (Hen, 2013). This then result to stream straightening, reduced water loss but evapotranspiration since most of the vegetation is removed. Together the formation of roads and footpaths near the streams hinder effective infiltration into the soil hence increased runoff into the streams (Zhang, 2011).
Mechanisms of soil erosion

Generally there are two main types of soil erosion. They include water and wind erosions.                         
 Water erosion

Water erosion is a natural process that is majorly driven by intense rainfall, topography, low soil organic content and the level of vegetation cover (Holz, 2015).  However the rate area often accelerated by human activities such as poor cultivation and cropping techniques, hydrological condition changes, land fragmentation and  deforestation (Brooks, 2013). Water can be defined the loss of top layer of soil as result of water. The impact of rain drops which directly fall on the top soil loosens the soil bonding hence allowing small fragments to break off (Edwards, 2015). Continued rainfall then causes water to collect on the ground resulting to surface ruin off. The run off then caries the loosened soil particles and deposits them elsewhere. Various human condition may promote the surface run off hence resulting to   erosion (Holz, 2015). Sloped land have grater possibility of experiencing soil erosion as compared to the flat ones. This is due to the gravity associated with slope which pulls the water and soil material further down slope. Soils that are already saturated due to heavy rains and those that lack vegetation to keep then in place give the water offer less resistance to water flow hence resulting to the erosion (Wang, 2014).

Types of water erosion

There are different forms of soil erosion which result from water movement. They include: sheet erosion, rill erosion, gully erosion and bank erosion. Sheet erosion evenly occurs on the ground surface.  It is characterized by uniform transport of the loosed top soil by the surface water (Zhang, 2011). The scenario resembles a bed sheet that is sliding off the bed. At the initial stages the erosion might not be noticed until when a lot of valuable nutrient rich soil will be washed away.  Sheet erosion may be indicated by the presence of the soil and crop residue accumulation at one point of the field (Brooks, 2013).

Rill erosion on the other results to   small temporary and well defined streams on the ground surface. During rainfall, some of the rainwater does not soak in the soil but gather on the surface and later flow down slope resulting to formation of small channels which are known as rills (Shi, Soil erosion processes and sediment sorting associated with transport mechanisms on steep slopes, 2012b).  Later after the rain fall the rill dries up leaving behind stream bed that was created by the running water. Gully erosion is an advanced form of rill erosion. In most cases it result from rill erosion which has failed to be addressed. Gulley erosion cause the farmer big issue because they render the affected land useless for growth of crops (Ferreira, 2011). The resulting big ditches also interferes with the farming activities such as ploughing by tractors. Finally bank erosion refers to that which is occurs at the stream banks or on the water ways. Water often collects in the low lying streams and water ways such as constructed drainage channels. With time the water activity together with other forces wears off the bank lining the ways hence resulting to erosion

Prevention of water erosion

Water erosion   can only be effectively prevented by   the use of vegetation. The planted vegetation grows and colonize resulting to deep root systems that protect the soil from   the moving waters (Edwards, 2015). Terraces may also be sued to decreases the erosion be reducing the slope and length of hillside slopes hence preventing the damage resulting done by the surface run off.  Vegetated water ways may be constructed to protect the soil against the erosive power of the run off (Shi, 2012a). The Water was collect and concentrate the overland flow, and absorb the destructive energy that may otherwise have caused the erosion. Proper farming techniques can also effectively hinder the occurrence of water erosion (Holz, 2015).  Some of the farming techniques that may be sued include contouring, strip cropping and crop rotation. The planted vegetation often traps the soil particles hence reducing the impact of surface runoff.

Wind Erosion

This from of erosion is a natural process that often occurs in deserts or on coastal sand dunes and beaches. It can also happen in agricultural regions that have reduced plant cover especially during drought season (Schoonover, 2015). The erosion is characterized by detachment of the soil particles as result of wing action. Soil particles are the transported by the wind (Laura, 2016). The erosion occurs when forces exerted by the wind exceeds gravitational and cohesive forces of the soil particles on the ground surface.  There are different way by with wind transport soil particles on the ground surface. The mode of transport will highly depend on the size of the article being transported (Yong, 2016). The well-known mechanisms include: creep, saltation, abrasion, attrition and suspension. Creep erosion is characterized by soil particles which have a diameter that is bigger than 0.5mm (Avecilla, 2015). The particles are in most cases too heavy to be lifted by the wind. The erosion occurs as result of the wind action rolling the particles. In some cases they may be moved long the surface by bombardment with other particles which are moving.  Saltation results to the suspension of soil particles in the air (Perron, 2015). It involve particles which are between 0.1 and 0.5mm in diameter. The particle are then lifted by the wind and fall back to the ground (Avecilla, 2015). This makes them to hop and bounce across the surface. The suspended soil particles result to abrasion of the soil surface as they fall back to the ground. In some cases, the particles may hit each other and break into smaller particles by attrition. Finally, small particles that are less than 0.1m diameter that have been released to the air by saltation remain suspended as dust (Laura, 2016). They are later carried away from the original site by the winds by suspension mode of erosion.  In most cases the particles which are greater than 0.02mm settle back to the ground within 100km from the erosion site while much smaller particles are carried over long distances (Perron, 2015).

Effect of drought on Wind erosion

Drier and windy climate often promotes wind erosion occurrence.  According to study done by Panos, (2015) wind erosion is likely to increase over the next 30 years because of the increased droughts and climate that have become more variable. The increases droughts are expected to result to less rain hence reduced vegetation cover (Kihara, 2011). Reduced soil moisture which will decrease the ability of the soil particles to bind together into larger heavier particles. The drought may also lead to high wind velocity that   exerts more force on the ground surface hence more wind erosion (Schoonover, 2015). Doubling of the wind speed increases the erosion rates approximately eight times (Martínez-Graña, 2015). The increase wind erosion will then result to huge loses of soil and nutrients. More dust storms will then negatively impact on the soils and community. Apart from the immediate direct effects of the wind erosion other forms of indirect effects may occur. This includes reduced air quality, increased risk of respiratory infections, and rainfall and temperature dynamics because of the atmospheric pollution (Panos, 2015).

Prevention of Wind erosion

Proper land management   practices can greatly reduce the rate wind erosion and hence the associated effects both direct and indirect.  Land sue activities such as clearing of vegetation, overgrazing and cropping can promote the occurrence of the wind erosion (Wang, 2014). Land sue practice that encourage vegetation cover with reduced soil disturbances reduces the magnitude of wind erosion (Laura, 2016). Planting of trees and cover crops makes the land to less susceptible to soil. Studies have shown that   ensuring and ground cover of approximately 50 % can effectively reduce the erosion especially in the case of paddocks (Borrelli, 2014). Wind breakers can also aid in the reduction of the impact of the force that is associated with the high velocity wind.


Soil degradation is global issue that result to the depletion of the nutrients and essential soil organic matter .Degradation lower the current and future capacity of the soil to support plant growth.  Soil erosion is among the several forms of land degradation process. The erosion occurs mainly by either wind or water that result to the loss of valuable top soil layers. Planting of vegetation is the most effective from of soil erosion prevention. The   vegetation normally develops root networks that bid the soil particles hence making it to be less susceptible to both wind and water erosion.

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