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Natural causes of air pollution: Wind Erosion

Wind Erosion definition

People in many areas aren’t conscious that wind erosion is a serious environmental problem and one of the most important natural causes of air pollution. There are places where this phenomenon is most likely to cause problems, especially in flat and bare areas or dry and sandy soils. However, to a greater or lesser extent, we all suffer from the air pollution this event provokes.

What is wind erosion? It is a natural process that moves soil from one location to another by wind power, often causing significant economic, health and environmental impact. At this point you might have thought about extreme cases, where a strong wind lifts a large volume of soil particulate matter into the air to create dust storms. However, light wind rolls soil particles along the surface, and this is the most common type of wind erosion.

At the end, it is wind who causes erosion, but the external facts, such as landscape or land condition, are the ones that determine the severity and the impact of this phenomenon. The following is a list of wind erosion examples:

  • Rock formation
  • Dunes
  • Canyons
  • Sand and dust storms

After wind erosion, wind deposition occurs, and it is the geological process wherein soil particles or sediments are deposited and added to the mass of landforms.

Types of wind erosion

Suspension, Saltation and Surface Creep

There are 2 types to divide wind erosion, and one of them is through suspension, saltation and surface creep:

  • Suspension: it is when particles are lifted into the wind, and once in the atmosphere, these dust and dirt particles can be transported very high through long distances, creating harmful environments for those who breath them.  
  • Saltation: it is when particles are lifted into the air, but this time they are drift horizontally. When these strike the ground again the velocity determines if they rebound back into the air or knock other particles into the air.
  • Surface Creep: in this process, the particles are rolled across the surface because wind is not too strong or the particles are too heavy to be lifted.

Deflation and Abrasion

Deflation and abrasion are another way to categorize the types of wind erosion. Deflation occurs when wind moves particles that are loose and abrasion is when an area is eroded directly by airborne particles. In other words, deflation and abrasion indicate what agent is causing the erosion.

Causes of Wind Erosion

Wind erosion occurs when something causes a reduction to the ground cover below 50% or/and removes trees and scrub that act as windbreaks. Some example are land clearing, overgrazing by livestock or cropping.

However, as the name suggests, wind is the principal cause of erosion. It can happen anywhere and any time the wind blows and it is more strong where the soil or sand is not compacted or is of a finely granulated nature.

What can prevent wind erosion?

Wind erosion prevention is topic which governments globally should focus more, as it has a huge impact on land production. The loss of nutrients affects directly the ability of the soil to properly produce drops, and soil production is one of the main elements for human race to survive. The following facts are the five main ways to prevent or control wind erosion:

Surface/crop residues

The surface form and crop residues can help prevent wind erosion. If placed at the right angle, which is perpendicular to the existing wind, it protects the removal of soil particles and maintain the nutrients of the soil.

After the harvest, when the soil is highly exposed to wind erosion, it is recommended taking any harvest residues and spread them throw the soil, so these residues act as a protection layer for the soil particles and its nutrients.

Permanent vegetation cover

A permanent vegetation cover is not only for wind erosion protection, but also for the conservation of water and air resources. This vegetation cover includes growing grass, shrubs, trees, vegetables or legumes.

Surface roughening

In large areas or areas where a permanent vegetation cover isn’t enough to protect the soil from wind erosion, three extra surface roughening methods come up: soil crusts, crosswind ridge, and clod-forming tillage.

Reshaping the land

Giving the land the ideal shape to protect it from wind erosion is key, specially on agricultural activities. It may not be available for everyone since it is a bit expensive in some cases, but it is a very effective way to lessen the potential for erosion.


It is one of the best ways to lessen the erosion of soil since the wind force finds it difficult to carry the soil particles on a wet surface. However, too much water on a soil affects negatively the soil and its nutrients, and some very hot and dry areas cannot apply this technique.

Wind Erosion as an Air Pollution Source

Appart from the economic costs, airborne particulate matter and dust are harmful to humans when inhaled. It is highly recommended having a dust mask if you live in an area where dust storms are common.

Airborne dust is directly related to the probability of asthma and other health problems. You can refer to our blog post on health effects of air pollution to know everything about it.

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