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Types of Soil Erosion

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

The process of minimizing the potential for soil erosion

No one wants to deal with soil erosion. After all, if you’re in the agricultural industry, then it could have hugely negative impacts on your farming operations. When the topsoil has gone, growing food becomes a big challenge -- some 95% of our food depends on the topsoil to grow. And that’s not all. As well as making the land less fertile, soil erosion can have further impacts, such as more extreme natural disasters (such as flooding) and other consequences, including more pests in the garden and the loss of grass and other vegetation.

The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent soil erosion. It’s all about erosion control! In your quest to get a handle on the issue, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about soil erosion.

In this blog, we’re going to run through the different types of soil erosion. Once we’ve outlined the various types, we’ll run through some erosion control solutions.

Types of Soil Erosion

There are many types of soil erosion, but some are more common than others. Below, we’ll take a look at four of the most common types. All of these types of erosion can occur anywhere in the United States, though some are more common in certain areas of the country.

Splash Erosion

Splash erosion is sometimes called raindrop erosion. It begins when, yep, you guessed it, it’s raining. When a raindrop hits exposed soil, the splash can cause a mini-explosion that dislodges the soil from its resting position. It’s possible that the dislodged soil just falls back into place, at which point, there’s no issue. However, if there’s running water or wind, then the soil may be carried away. It’s not something that people usually detect because the immediate visual impact is subtle. You may be able to see signs of splash erosion after a hard rain, however.

Splash erosion is referred to as the first stage of the erosion process.

Sheet Erosion

Sheet erosion is similar to splash erosion, just with an additional step. This also occurs during rainfall. After the soil is dislodged by splashing rain, it is then carried away by running water. It’s common to see this on a slope, where rainfall might result in downward flowing water. It’s called sheet erosion because the soil moves collectively, almost as a sheet, with the water. The dislodged soil particles are picked up by the running water. This is problematic because the soil being moved is often the finest, the ones that contain the most minerals and other important organic matters.

This type of soil loss can be extremely hard to detect; indeed, it usually goes unnoticed for years. Most people only realise when they see patches of light-colored soil, which suggests that the topsoil has been transported.

Rill Erosion

Rill erosion looks like deep lines in the soil. They can run up to 30cm deep (any deeper, and it’s called gully erosion). They occur when pooled water gathers in pockets on the surface. Over time, they erode the soil. If you were to look at the land that was experiencing rill erosion, you’d see small channels of straight lines. This type of erosion is more common in certain types of soil. You’ll typically see it in overgrazed land and in freshly cultivated soil with loose soil structure. You can usually get rid of rill channels through tilling. If they’re not handled, however, they may become gullies.

Gully Erosion

Gully erosion is the name for rill erosion that has become more advanced. The channels that the process forms have become greater than centimeters in depth. At this point, the strips of soil that once separated the channels have been lost, and what’s left is one large gully. In a field, gully erosion can look like one large scar. They can be pretty impressive -- some of them reach a depth of more than twenty feet. At this stage, traditional and normal tillage methods are no longer effective, and more advanced machines and methods are required to resolve the problem.

They don’t just impact farming. They can also pose a safety hazard to farmers and animals.

Wind Erosion

Not all erosion is caused by water. Wind can also cause soil erosion too. While it’s more common in certain parts of the United States than in others, the truth is that wind can cause the erosion of valuable topsoil anywhere. Places that are especially at risk include areas where the soil is loose and fine, where there’s nothing to block the wind, and where winds reach 15 - 25 mph.

Erosion Control

We’ve talked a lot about different types of soil erosion in this blog. But it’s important to remember that there’s nearly always something that you can do to get the problem under control. As we saw above, most erosion takes place over a long period; it’s not something that happens overnight. And in most cases, the more advanced levels of erosion follow on from the preceding level. That means that the earlier you take action, the easier it’ll be to manage and rectify the problem.

There are multiple things you can do. For instance, investing in the drainage that moves excess water from the land has been shown to be effective for minor problems. There are also a host of flexamat erosion control products, which effectively function as erosion blockers. You can’t stop the processes that cause erosion (such as rain) from occurring, but you can manage the soil to prevent the process from occurring.

Final Thoughts

Erosion is an issue that has negative impacts both at home and abroad. There are things we can do to mitigate and prevent it.


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