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Erosion HeaderErosion Header

Gently rolling fields in infinite shades of green, sandy white beaches, and red sandstone cliffs are the landscapes most identified with Prince Edward Island. Besides their astounding natural beauty, these landforms share another characteristic: they are disappearing due to erosion. Soil erosion is a process whereby particles of soil become detached from the surface of the land and are swept away by wind or water. Wind erosion occurs when the soil is dry. This is one reason why sand dunes on Island beaches are shifting or disappearing. Dune erosion is accelerated by pedestrian and Soil Erosionvehicular traffic travelling across the dunes and the trampling of the fragile marram grass that supports the dune system. Strong winds, severe wave action and high tides under storm conditions also take a toll on our sandstone cliffs.These winds undermine the cliff base at shore level until the hanging ledge sinks onto the beach for lack of support, dragging sod and trees and shrubs along with it.

Since the early 1800s, farming has been a vital part of living on the Island. Today, agriculture continues to be Prince Edward Island’s most important industry—we depend on our rich sandy loam for our individual sustenance as well as for our collective economic well-being. However, demands for increasing agricultural productivity are depleting the soil and the long-term sustainability of agriculture while also jeopardizing the health of the Island environment. On farms, erosion results in loss of topsoil, reduction of soil fertility and organic matter levels, increased need for fertilizers and pesticides, poor drainage, creation of gullies in fields, and reduced long term farm viability.

Soil erosion is influenced by many factors besides agricultural practice. These factors include climate, topography, and even the history of land tenure on the Island. Prince Edward Island is subject to freeze-thaw cycles that place soil at high erosion risk. Occasional but rapid and drastic temperature fluctuations in January and February (rising as much as 25oC) can cause top layers of soil to thaw and wash away. Rapid snow melt in spring can lead to similarly heavy erosion. Heavy summer storms or high winds can cause soil loss during the growing season.

Ironically, the Island’s peacefully rolling landscape is a major factor in soil erosion. Short steep slopes obviously have gravity working against them, but even long low slopes allow a high volume of water to accumulate. Both types of slopes witness vast amounts of soil washed away annually. Historically, farms on Prince Edward Island—and in colonial New France—were built along shorelines or along roads, benefiting from a small frontage with acreage extending far behind. With farms divided into long and narrow lots, cross-slope cultivation, Wind erosionstrip cropping and terracing are difficult to implement on individual farms. While many of these factors cannot be controlled, cultivation and cropping techniques can reduce the rate of soil loss.

Besides causing the loss of valuable and irreplaceable topsoil, erosion creates problems for Island watercourses. Erosion in the form of surface runoff contaminates our waterways with pesticides, nutrients, and bacteria. Runoff clogs drainage ditches and culverts, harms fish and wildlife, buries shellfish beds, reduces coastal water depth, overloads aquatic environments with nutrients, and pollutes aquatic environments with toxic pesticides. While farming activity is a key cause of siltation, road construction, unpaved roads, building construction, and subdivision construction cause many of the localized siltation problems in Island ditches and waterways.

Soil Conservation | Ground Water Quality | Surface Water Quality |
Forestry Practices | Natural Disasters | Irving Whale