Types of environmental degradation

The gradual degradation of the environment is due to many factors. There are mainly three different types of environmental degradation. They are land degradation (also called soil degradation), water degradation, and air degradation. The degradation of these three environments impacts the global climate and living conditions to a great extent. All the environmental factors are dependent on one another and the impact or degradation of one type leads to the breakdown of the other factors in nature.

The main cause of environmental degradation is human exploitation. Although nature has its own way of degradation it renews the environment too making it more susceptible for various life forms. Human impact, however, has impacted the environment in a rapid and deleterious manner, a revival from which cannot keep pace with the rate of degradation. Environmental concerns such as climate change, global warming, thermal pollution calls for environmental protection.

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Different types of environmental degradations

Water degradation

Water degradation or water pollution is mainly caused by the release of harmful materials into water bodies rendering it unsuitable for the use by animals or humans. A moving water body serves as a very effective mode of disposal of waste. This is the usual norm for people living near water bodies. This can be seen in the drainage and sewage systems in various cities. Many industries dispose off their wastes into many rivers and lakes which are also the main sources of water pollution. These industrial wastes are often untreated and frequently contain harmful chemicals that can be toxic to aquatic life forms and to animals and humans when consumed.

Water Pollution

The use of chemicals in agriculture as manures, pesticides, and weedicides often result in chemical contamination of nearby water bodies after rain or connected irrigation systems. These chemicals are extremely harmful to the aquatic ecosystem as well as for human consumption.

Water degradation in the oceans (marine pollution) and seas is again a major concern. Most ships and steamers discarded their wastes and refuse into the ocean water which led to the contamination of the marine ecosystem. Oil spillage from marine vessels, oil tankers and offshore wells has damaged the ecosystem. Clean up of oil spills on the ocean surface is not an easy task and if delayed can lead to the death of numerous aquatic life forms.

Off late there have been reports of increasing acidity of the ocean water and alarming rise in pollutants due to the formation of carbonic acid as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere reacts with the sea water. The higher acidity of the water hampers with the calcification process that many species depend on like shells, corals, certain planktons, sea urchins, clams’ mussels and others. These calcifying species are indispensable for the marine ecosystem. The increasing acidity of the ocean will result in the melting of the hard exoskeleton of the calcifying species and may lead to local extinction of many species.

Land Degradation or Soil Pollution

The soil offers a medium for the growth and cultivation of various plant species. It also serves as the habitat for many animals and microorganisms that contribute substantially to the ecological balance. When the composition of the soil is contaminated due to the disposal of harmful waste or the use of chemicals it becomes detrimental to the organisms that depend on the soil for its sustenance. Environmental impact of soil pollution or land pollution is often less stressed upon as compared to other forms of pollution.

One of the major reasons for the degradation of land is due to the disposal of waste that cannot be degraded naturally like different forms of plastic materials, Styrofoam, metal scraps etc. These waste remains lodged in the soil and impacts the fertility of the soil. Irresponsible dumping of biodegradable or organic waste can also lead to pollution resulting in unusable land patches due to the dirt.

Mining is another reason that has led to the degradation of various areas. Deep mining creates deep and open shafts that renders the land unsuitable for farming or for dwelling. The underground empty spaces created post-mining can lead to the creation of various sinkholes which can in many instances be dangerous. The constant drilling also makes the soil loose and encourages erosion.

Land Pollution

Quarries also pose a threat to natural landscapes as they results in generation of a number of pollutant forms. It is not just an impact on the physical features of the land, but the vibrations caused by the drilling and explosives used can cause various health risks and render the land unsuitable for use or habitation. Operations of such heavy machinery also results in noise pollution. It also contributes to air pollution with the large amount of dust and gravel released into the air every day. The unchecked cutting of land and stones from hills encourages soil erosion and landslides.

Although often overlooked agriculture too leads to land degradation. Farming the same crop on a plot of land can lead to a loss of fertility. Crop rotation can help to improve the soil quality and conserve natural resources, but it is not commonly followed leading to a gradual decrease in the produce from the land. The use of chemicals in farming as fertilizers or pesticides often leaves behind toxic chemical residues that can in time find a way in to the food chain and also results in polluted water. Apart from this overgrazing on a pasture land can lead to its gradual loss of vegetation and fertility.

Over drafting of groundwater for irrigation and consumption can lead to various environmental impacts. One of the main impacts is a loss of ground moisture which is needed to sustain the vegetation on it. Apart from this land subsidence which means lowering of the land levels due to the lack of support from the groundwater after it is drafted out. This can damage the physical features of the land and effect the ecosystems it supported.

Deforestation is a known cause of land degradation. The cutting or felling of trees leads to the loosening of soil which aggravates soil erosion. That deforestation leads to loss of habitat for numerous animals and the extinction of many animal and plant species.

Related Article: Types of Solid Wastes

Atmospheric degradation

Atmospheric degradation is caused by air pollution and it is the main contributor to the environmental issues that is leading to global warming and greenhouse gas emission. The increasing air pollution has led to health effect environmental problem all over the planet. The impact of air pollution has a chain reaction causing the breakdown of other ecosystems as well.

The main contributor to air pollution is vehicular and industrial emission. The smoke released from the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles and industries consists primarily of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons. All these gases are detrimental to the environment. High concentration of Sulphur dioxides in the air can lead to respiratory diseases in man and animals and can cause the formation of Sulphur Smog when it is exposed to sunlight. Sulphurous smog is also referred to as London Smog. Sulphur dioxide gases are released upon burning of fossil fuels containing Sulphur coal.

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that has contributed to global warming. The carbon dioxide molecule has the ability to absorb and re-emit the infrared radiation from the sun thus trapping the heat within the atmosphere. The high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also contributing to the increasing acidity of the ocean water. Carbon monoxide another gas emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels is very harmful for health. Carbon monoxide has a greater affinity than oxygen in binding with the haemoglobin molecules of the blood. When the concentration of carbon monoxide is higher in the air then the blood is unable o supply the required oxygen to the cells of the body leading to carbon monoxide poisoning which if not treated soon can be fatal.

Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs are a group of toxic chemical compounds which are considered as a global concern as they can be transported by air or water and can affect the environment adversely. The more prominent of the POPs is the Chlorofluorocarbons or the CFCs. This compound is used in the production of refrigerants, aerosol sprays, blowing agents for foams etc. Once the CFC compound is released into the atmosphere it moves to the upper strata of the atmosphere where the Ultraviolet rays from the sun breaks the compound and release Chlorine molecules. The chlorine molecule then breaks the ozone molecule into smaller molecules thus destroying the ozone layer that protects the earth from the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

It is not just the chemical compound that is released from the use of fossil fuels or the use of organic pollutants that degrade the atmosphere. Odours are another form of atmospheric degradation that impacts the environment. Unsanitary living conditions and reckless dumping of waste sewage can lead to odours or stench that can deteriorate the living conditions in an area. It can not only make breathing difficult due to the stench but can also lead to diseases and attract flies and animals.

Release of particulate matter into the air like dust, sand, and gravel from construction and mining industries is another way that degrades the atmosphere. The presence of the particulate matter often makes breathing difficult and contributes to the formation of smog over cities. Deforestation has led to the reduction of vegetation on the earth’s surface by a great extent. The clearing of land makes it more prone to soil erosion and loss of fertility. However, one of the major impacts of the reduced number of trees is the reduction of photosynthesis, the natural process of converting the harmful carbon dioxide to oxygen. This means a greater amount of carbon dioxide now remains trapped within the environment.

There are various natural processes that contribute to the environmental degradation. Natural activities like volcanic eruptions can cause a large scale atmospheric and land degradation. Moreover, natural calamities like floods, earthquakes, wildfires, storms etc. can affect the environment in many ways. And most importantly, the living population are in a shake because of these various environmental degradations.


Environmental degradation, irrespective of the form is a matter of concern. The primary reasons contributing to this environmental concern are the population growth, improper disposal of waste, rapid urbanisation and lack of sustainable development practices. Apart from the 3 major types of environmental degradation, we must also take into account other environmental problems such as plastic pollution, disposal of hazardous waste and nuclear waste, noise pollution, desertification, damage to coral reefs, solid waste management etc. Laws and guidelines should be strictly followed to save our water resources, keep water pollutants in check, for pollution control and similar measures to reduce the impact on environment.

Also Read: Importance of Environmental Education for Saving Environment, Pollution Prevention Law and Policies | US EPA