If you think soil erosion amounts to a bit of soil being blown or washed away here and there, think again! Soil erosion costs billions of dollars each year. Can the use of plants help reduce soil erosion? This second grade student designed a project to put the idea to the test. With inexpensive baking trays and seeds, K-12 students can make model hillsides and explore!
Over time, erosion can destabilize a hillside. As a result, erosion may put a house perched on top of a coastal cliff, for example, at risk. Similarly, over a really long period of time, erosion can contribute to geographic formations like the Grand Canyon. While long-term damage from erosion can be dramatic, year to year, soil erosion causes billions of dollars of damage around the world as waterways are polluted by runoff and as portions of farmlands are washed or blown away.
With their network of roots and their propensity to soak up water, plants may play an integral role in preventing soil erosion. Strategic use of plants specifically planted to form a barrier against erosion may trap soil that might otherwise be washed or blown away or may absorb some of the water that would otherwise carry soil. Can the answer to a global problem in the agriculture industry be as simple as planting seeds?
After studying erosion in her 2nd grade class, Riya, a student in New York, decided to put plants to the test and see how effective they may be at stopping soil erosion.
Making a Model at Home
Riya's mother says she and her daughter frequently do science experiments together to extend the hands-on STEM learning available in her elementary school classroom. Last year, Riya and her mother experimented with combining fruit and a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. This year, Riya chose to explore soil erosion for her science fair project.
Using a Science Buddies project on erosion as a launching point, Riya designed her own experiment on plants and erosion to see, firsthand, whether or not plants can help stop or limit erosion, specifically from water. In preparation for her project, Riya planted and grew Fenugreek seeds from her kitchen. After the seeds sprouted, she used disposable aluminum baking trays to create model hillsides with and without plants and then tested to see what happened when water flowed down each hillside.
Students can make their own model hillsides to test the effectiveness of plants in helping soak up water and preventing soil from washing away using the Can Plants Stop Soil Erosion? environmental engineering and plant sciences project.
For another K-12 science project related to erosion, see Riprap: It's Not Hip Hop But Erosion Stop.
A Career in Plant Sciences
Finding ways to use plants to help save money is called economic botany. To learn more about careers related to plants and economic botany, see the following career profiles: