3 Types of Environmental Degradation

There are mainly three types of environmental degradation which include water degradation, land degradation and air degradation. Environmental degradation is one of the largest threats that are being looked at in the world today.

These three types of environmental degradation impact the global climate and living conditions to a great extent. Below are the three types of environmental degradation.

3 Types Of Environmental Degradations

  1. Water Degradation
  2. Land Degradation
  3. Air/Atmospheric Degradation



Water Degradation

Water degradation or water pollution is one of the three types of environmental degradation that is mainly caused by the release of harmful materials into water bodies rendering them unsuitable for 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 of 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 animals and humans when consumed.

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 and this has been a major cause of water degradation.

Water degradation adversely affects the health and life of man, animals, and plants alike. Polluted water is also harmful to agriculture as it adversely affects crops and soil fertility. Pollution of seawater damages oceanic life.

Destruction of biodiversity is a known cause of water degradation as it depletes aquatic ecosystems and triggers unbridled proliferation of phytoplankton in lakes’ eutrophication.

Human Health can be affected by water degradation as consumption of polluted water is one of the major causes of ill health. Polluted water causes some deadly diseases like cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, tuberculosis, jaundice, etc. Disease.

The WHO estimates that about 2 billion people have no option but to drink water contaminated by excrement, exposing them to these diseases. Infant mortality is another effect of water degradation.

According to the UN, diarrhoeal diseases linked to lack of hygiene caused the death of about 1,000 children a day worldwide.

Contamination and disruption of the food chain is another effect of water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation because fishing in polluted waters and the use of wastewater for livestock farming and agriculture introduces toxins into foods that are harmful to our health when eaten.

Pollution disrupts the food chain by moving the toxins from one level in the chain to higher levels. In some cases, pollution can wipe out an entire part of the food chain. Such affect the other organisms by either causing excessive growth, in case the predator dies or death (if it wipes out the prey).

Lack of potable water is another effect of water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation. The UN says that billions of people around the world have no access to clean water to drink or sanitation, particularly in rural areas.

Death of Aquatic Life is another effect of water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation. Animals and plants that depend on water for life are the most affected by polluted water.

Water degradation in the oceans and seas is a major concern. Most ships discard their wastes and refuse into the ocean water which leads 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.

Statistics from the Centre for Biological Diversity on the effects of the Deep Horizon spill provides a useful glimpse of the impact of pollution on aquatic life. In the report, the 2010 spill on the Gulf of Mexico harmed over 82,000 birds, 25,900 marine animals, 6165 sea turtles, and an unknown number of fish and invertebrates.

Destruction of Ecosystems is another effect of water degradation. The introduction or elimination of certain micro-organisms distorts the ecosystem. Nutrient pollution, for example, leads to an increase in algae, which depletes the water of oxygen, thereby leading to the death of fish and other aquatic life.

The economic effects of water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation are also of major concern as managing and restoring polluted water bodies is expensive. Deteriorating water quality is stalling economic growth and exacerbating poverty in many countries.

The explanation is that, when biological oxygen demand — the indicator that measures the organic pollution found in water — exceeds a certain threshold, the growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the regions within the associated water basins falls by a third.

Land Degradation or Soil Pollution

Land Degradation is one of the types of environmental degradation. Land degradation refers to the deterioration of the earth’s land surfaces, at and below ground level.

The cause is the accumulation of solid and liquid waste materials that contaminate groundwater and soil. These waste materials are often referred to as municipal solid waste (MSW), which includes both hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

The soil offers a medium for the growth and cultivation of various plant species. It also serves as the habitat for many animals and micro-organisms 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.

The environmental impact of soil pollution or land pollution is often less stressed upon as compared to other forms of pollution.

Disposal of waste is one of the major reasons for the degradation of land as one of the types of environmental degradation and this is due to the disposal of non-degradable waste like different forms of plastic materials, metal scraps, etc.

The effects of waste disposal are that this waste remains present in the soil and impacts the fertility of the soil, uncontrolled dumping of biodegradable or organic waste can also lead to pollution resulting in unusable land patches.

Underground Mining is one of the causes of the degradation of land as one of the types of environmental degradation. The effect of underground mining is that underground mining creates deep and open shafts that render the land unsuitable for farming or dwelling.

The underground empty spaces created during the 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.

Surface mining also poses a threat to natural landscapes as it results in the generation of several pollutant forms.

The effects of surface mining are that 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.

The unchecked cutting of land and stones from hills encourages soil erosion and landslides.

Agriculture also leads to land degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation. The effect of agriculture is that farming the same crop on a plot of land can lead to a loss of fertility.

The use of chemicals in farming as fertilizers or pesticides often leaves behind toxic chemical residues that can in time find a way into the food chain and also results in polluted water. Apart from this overgrazing on pasture land can lead to its gradual loss of vegetation and fertility.

The effects of Over drafting of groundwater for irrigation and consumption is that it can lead to loss of ground moisture which is needed to sustain the vegetation on it.

Apart from this land subsidence 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 affect the ecosystems it supported.

Deforestation is a known cause of land degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation. Deforestation is the cutting down of trees to make way for more homes and industries. Rapid growth in population and urban sprawl are two of the major causes of deforestation.

Apart from that, the use of forest land for agriculture, animal grazing, harvest for fuel-wood and logging are some of the other causes of deforestation.

The effects of deforestation are that 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. Deforestation also contributes to global warming as decreased forest size puts carbon back into the environment.

The landfill is another cause of land degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation and its effects is that is polluting the environment and destroy the beauty of the city. Landfills come within the city due to the large amount of waste that gets generated by households, industries, factories and hospitals.

Landfills pose a great risk to the health of the environment and the people who live there. Landfills produce a foul smell when burned and cause substantial environmental degradation.

Atmospheric Degradation

Atmospheric degradation is one of the types of environmental degradation and is caused by air pollution and it is the main contributor to the environmental issues that are leading to global warming and greenhouse gas emission. 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 causing atmospheric degradation which is a type of environmental degradation. A 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.

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. Bad odors are another form of atmospheric degradation that impacts the environment.

Unsanitary living conditions and reckless dumping of waste sewage can lead to odors 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.

The 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 particulate matter often makes breathing difficult and contributes to the formation of smog in cities. Deforestation has led to the reduction of vegetation on the earth’s surface to 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.

Child Health Problems is another detrimental effect of atmospheric degradation which is one of the types of environmental degradation. Air pollution is detrimental to your health even before you take your first breath.

Exposure to high air pollution levels during pregnancy causes miscarriages as well as premature birth, autism, asthma, and spectrum disorder in young children.

It also has the potential to damage early brain development in a child and cause pneumonia that kills almost a million children below 5 years.

Children are at a greater risk of short-term respiratory infections and pulmonary diseases in areas exposed to air pollutants.

Another direct effect of air degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation is the immediate alterations that the world is witnessing due to global warming. Global warming is an environmental phenomenon caused by natural and anthropogenic air pollution.

It refers to rising air and ocean temperatures around the world. This temperature rise is at least partially caused by an increase in the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

With increased temperatures worldwide, an increase in sea levels and melting of ice from colder regions, and icebergs, displacement, and loss of habitat have already signaled an impending disaster if actions for preservation and normalization aren’t undertaken soon.

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that has contributed to global warming. The carbon dioxide molecule can absorb and re-emit the infra-red radiation from the sun thus trapping the heat within the atmosphere.

Wildlife is also being affected by water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation. Just like humans, animals also face some devastating effects of air pollution.

Toxic chemicals present in the air can force wildlife to move to a new place and change their habitat. The toxic pollutants deposit over the surface of the water and can also affect sea animals.

Like humans, animals can suffer health effects from exposure to air pollution. Birth defects, diseases, and lower reproductive rates have all been attributed to air pollution.

Another effect of water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation is the depletion of the Ozone Layer. Ozone exists in the Earth’s stratosphere and is responsible for protecting humans from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Earth’s ozone layer is depleting due to the presence of chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere.

As the ozone layer becomes thin, it will emit harmful rays back on earth and can cause skin and eye-related problems. UV rays also can affect crops.

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 break 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.

Our Environment, in general, is being affected by water degradation. Like people, animals, and plants, entire ecosystems can suffer effects from air pollution.

Haze, like smog, is a visible type of air pollution that obscures shapes and colors. Hazy air pollution can even muffle sounds.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles in the air can create acid rain. When it rains, the water droplets combine with these air pollutants; becomes acidic, and then fall on the ground in the form of acid rain.

Acid rain can cause great damage to humans, animals, and crops. These air pollutants come mostly from coal-fired power plants and motor vehicles.

When acid rain falls to Earth, it damages plants by changing soil composition; degrades water quality in rivers, lakes, and streams; damages crops; and can cause buildings and monuments to decay.

One of the major effects of water degradation as one of the types of environmental degradation is its effect on humans. Carbon monoxide a poisonous gas emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels is very harmful to health. Carbon monoxide has a greater affinity than oxygen in binding with the hemoglobin 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.

People experience a wide range of health effects from being exposed to air pollution. Effects can be broken down into short-term effects and long-term effects.

Short-term effects, which are temporary, include illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. They also include discomforts such as irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or skin.

Air pollution can also cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Bad smells made by factories, garbage, or sewer systems are considered air pollution, too. These odors are less serious but still unpleasant.

The long-term effects of air pollution can last for years or an entire lifetime. They can even lead to a person’s death. Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema.

Air pollution can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Air pollutants cause birth defects. Nearly 2.5 million people die worldwide each year from the effects of outdoor or indoor air pollution.

Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. These can be caused by both long-term exposure and short-term exposure to high levels of air pollutants.


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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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