It’s no secret that the Lake Michigan coastline has seen some heavy erosion over the past year and a half. Recent numbers show that over 40 million people have been affected by erosion along the southern basin of Lake Michigan alone—although the drought conditions we’ve seen this spring and summer have provided a much-needed reprieve.
While fluctuations in precipitation and water levels are a normal part of geological processes, the presence of trees has proven to influence the overall erosion a section of land experiences. The Environmental Protection Agency names two ways in which trees mitigate the effects of erosion:
1) Tree canopies provide protection from rainfall.
Unlike exposed land, wooded areas do not receive the battering impact of heavy rains, as most of the water hits the tree branches. The water still reaches the ground, but first it must travel through the canopy of foliage and down the trunks, so that the result is more of a gentle drip rather than a driving force.
2) Root systems reduce runoff.
Because of their spreading nature, roots extend beyond the reach of the tree canopy in order to drink in water from as wide a radius as possible. These roots become a powerful force in the water absorption process, soaking up rainwater that would otherwise seek to travel downhill. It is this downhill travel (i.e. runoff) combined with the initial impact of falling droplets that accounts for the wear and tear on the land, known as erosion.
Roots also stabilize the ground they occupy, providing resistance to wind and water stress. Although rising water levels can eventually destroy wooded dunes, it takes much longer for the water to erode soil out from under a tree than to wash away bare dunes with no greenery. For this reason, the placement of trees on lakeshore properties is one strategic way to stem the tide of Mother Nature and preserve soil stability.