Problem soils and their reclamation methods

Soil erosion is a naturally and continuous process that affects all landforms. In agriculture, soil erosion refers to the wearing away of a field’s topsoil by the natural physical forces of water and wind or through forces associated with farming activities such as tillage.

Erosion, whether it is by water, wind or tillage, involves three distinct actions – soil detachment, movement and deposition. Topsoil, which is high in organic matter, fertility and soil life, is relocated elsewhere “on-site” where it builds up over time or is carried “off-site” where it fills in drainage channels. Soil erosion reduces cropland productivity and contributes to the pollution of adjacent watercourses, wetlands and lakes.

Soil erosion can be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed or can occur at an alarming rate, causing serious loss of topsoil(Such as due to anthropogenic causes) . Soil compaction, low organic matter, loss of soil structure, poor internal drainage, salinisation and soil acidity problems are other serious soil degradation conditions that can accelerate the soil erosion process.

Weathering is the general term applied to the combined action of all processes that cause rock to disintegrate physically and decompose chemically because of ex- posure near the Earth’s surface through the elements of weather. Among these elements temperature, rainfall, frost, fog and ice are the important ones. Weathering begins as soon as rocks come in contact with one or more than one elements of weather on the surface of the earth. In nature, generally both the disintegration and decomposition act together at the sametime and assist each other. We must remember that the weathered material (i.e. disintegrated and decomposed) lie in situ (i.e. at its original position). In this process no transportation or movement of material is involved other than its falling down under the force of gravity.

Weathering is the response of rocks to a changing environment. For example, plutonic rocks form under conditions at high pressures and temperatures. At the Earth’s surface they are not as stable as the conditions under which they formed. In response to the environmental change, they gradually weather (transform to more stable minerals).

Different types of Weathering are:-

  1. Physical Weathering :-The mechanical breakup or disintegration of rock doesn’t change mineral makeup. It creates broken fragments or “detritus.” which are classified by size:
  • Coarse-grained – Boulders, Cobbles, and Pebbles.
  • Medium-grained – Sand
  • Fine-grained – Silt and clay (mud).

Various process of Physical weathering are:-

  • Development of Joints – Joints are regularly spaced fractures or cracks in rocks that show no offset across the fracture (fractures that show an offset are called faults).
  • Crystal Growth – As water percolates through fractures and pore spaces it may contain ions that precipitate to form crystals. As these crystals grow they may exert an outward force that can expand or weaken rocks.
  • Thermal Expansion – Although daily heating and cooling of rocks do not seem to have an effect, sudden exposure to high temperature, such as in a forest or grass fire may cause expansion and eventual breakage of rock. Campfire example.
  • Root Wedging – Plant roots can extend into fractures and grow, causing expansion of the fracture. Growth of plants can break rock – look at the sidewalks of New Orleans for example.
  • Animal Activity – Animals burrowing or moving through cracks can break rock.
  • Frost Wedging – Upon freezing, there is an increase in the volume of the water (that’s why we use antifreeze in auto engines or why the pipes break in New Orleans during the rare freeze). As the water freezes it expands and
    exerts a force on its surroundings. Frost wedging is more prevalent at high altitudes where there may be many freeze-thaw cycles.
  1. Chemcial weathering :-involves a chemical transformation of rock into one or more new compounds.  A group of weathering processes viz; solution , carnonation, hydration , oxidation and reduction acts on the roks to decompose, dissolve orreduce them to a fine clastic state through chemical reactions by oxygen ,surface /soil water and other acids. Water and air along with heat must be present to speed up all chemical reactions. Over and above the carbon dioxide present in the air, decomposition of plants and animals increases the quanitity of carbon dioxide underground . Chamical weathering involves four major processes:
  • Oxidation is the process in which atmospheric oxygen reacts with the rock to produce oxides. The process is called oxidation. Greatest impact of this process is observed on ferrous minerals. Oxygen present in humid air reacts with iron grains in the rocks to form a yellow or red oxide of iron. This is called rusting of the iron. Rust decomposes rocks completely with passage of time.
  • Carbonation is the process by which various types of carbonates are formed. Some of these carbonates are soluble in water. For example, when rain water con- taining carbon dioxide passes through pervious limestone rocks, the rock joints enlarge due to the action of carbonic acid. The joints enlarge in size and lime is removed in solution. This type of breakdown of rocks is called carbonation.
  • Hydration is the process by which water is absorbed by the minerals of the rock. Due to the absorption of water by the rock, its volume increases and the grains lose their shape. Feldspar, for example, is changed into kaolin through hydration. Kaolin on Vindhyan Hills near Jabalpur has been formed in this manner.
  • Solution is the process in which some of the minerals get dissolved in water. They are therefore removed in solution. Rock salt and gypsum are removed by this process.
  1. Biotic weathering :- is a type of weathering that is caused by living organisms. Most often the culprit ofbiotic weathering are plant roots. These roots can extend downward, deep into rock cracks in search of water, and nutrients. In the process they act as a wedge, widening and extending the cracks.

Mass Wasting


Mass wasting is defined as the down slope movement of rock and regolith near the Earth’s surface mainly due to the force of gravity.   Mass movements are an important part of the erosional process, as it moves material from higher elevations to lower elevations where transporting agents like streams and glaciers can then pick up the material and move it to even lower elevations.   Mass movement processes are occurring continuously on all slopes; some act very slowly, others occur very suddenly, often with disastrous results.  Any perceptible down slope movement of rock or regolith is often referred to in general terms as a landslide.  Landslides, however, can be classified in a much more detailed way that reflects the mechanisms responsible for the movement and the velocity at which the movement occurs. Mass wasting can be classified as:-


  • Slope Failures – a sudden failure of the slope resulting in transport of debris down hill by sliding, rolling, falling, or slumping.
  • Sediment Flows – debris flows down hill mixed with water or air.


Erosion and Deposition


Soil erosion is the deterioration of soil by the physical movement of soil particles from a given site. Wind, water, ice, animals, and the use of tools by man are usually the main causes of soil erosion. It is a natural process which usually does not cause any major problems. It becomes a problem when human activity causes it to occur much faster than under normal conditions.The removal of soil at a greater rate than its replacement by natural agencies (water, wind etc.) is known as soil erosion.
Soil erosion is of four types which are as follows:-

  • Wind Erosion :-Winds carry away vast quantity of fine soil particles and sand from deserts and spread it over adjoining cultivated land and thus destroy their fertility. This type of erosion is known as wind erosion. It takes place in and around all desert regions of the world. In India, over one lakh kilometers of land is under Thar Desert, spread over parts of Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan states. These areas are subject to intense wind erosion.
  • Sheet Erosion :-Water when moves as a sheet takes away thin layers of soil. This type of erosion is called sheet erosion. Such type of erosion is most common along the river beds and areas affected by floods. In the long run, the soil is com- pletely exhausted due to removal of top soil and becomes infertile.
  • Rill Erosion :-The removal of surface material usually soil, by the action of running water. The processes create numerous tiny channels (rills) a few centimeters in depth, most of which carry water only during storms.
  • Gully Erosion :-When water moves as a channel down the slope, it scoops out the soil and forms gullies which gradually multiply and in the long run spread over a wide area. This type of erosion is called gully erosion. The land thus dissected is called bad lands or ravines. In our country, the two rivers Chambal and Yamuna are famous for their ravines in U.P. and M.P. states.

Deposition / Sedimentation – occurs when sediment settles out as winds/water current die down, or as glaciers melt. When sediment is transported and deposited, it leaves clues to the mode of transport and deposition. For example, if the mode of transport is by sliding down a slope, the deposits that result are generally chaotic in nature, and show a wide variety of particle sizes. Grain size and the interrelationship between grains gives the resulting sediment texture. Thus, we can use the texture of the resulting deposits to give us clues to the mode of transport and deposition. Sorting – The degree of uniformity of grain size. Particles become sorted on the basis of density, because of the energy of the transporting medium. High energy currents can carry larger fragments. As the energy decreases, heavier particles are deposited and lighter fragments continue to be transported. This results in sorting due to density.