A recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay reveals a staggering 94% increase in soil erosion in the Western Ghats Region (WGR) from 1990 to 2020. This concerning trend poses a severe threat to the biodiversity hotspot, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tamil Nadu emerges as the worst-hit, experiencing a soil loss rate of 121% during the same period.
CHALLENGES IN A BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT
The Western Ghats, stretching from Gujarat to Kerala and Tamil Nadu, faces unprecedented challenges due to unsustainable and unplanned activities. As policymakers reevaluate wildfire strategies, this study sheds light on the pressing issue of escalating soil erosion in a region critical for its biodiversity.
Utilizing the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) method, the study by Prof Pennan Chinnasamy and Vaishnavi Honap offers quantitative estimates of soil loss. By harmonizing remote sensing data, researchers assessed erosion factors such as rainfall, topography, soil erodibility, land cover management, and conservation practices. The alarming findings reveal an average soil loss increase of 94%, threatening the delicate ecological balance.
Among the Western Ghats states, Tamil Nadu records the highest soil loss rate, escalating by 121%. Kerala and Karnataka also witness significant increases of 90% and 56%, respectively. Goa and Gujarat face alarming trends, with Goa experiencing an 80% increase and Gujarat a staggering 119%. Maharashtra sees a surge of 97% in soil losses.
“The Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot that harnesses multiple lifeforms. It is a very unique spot in the world, however, the management of this ecosystem needs more focus. Water and soil forms the core for life in this region, and since soil erosion is not monitored we quantified the soil losses,” says Prof Pennan Chinnasamy as the motivation behind this study.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND LAND MISMANAGEMENT
The study underscores climate change and land mismanagement as primary contributors to the escalating soil erosion. The impact extends beyond ecological concerns, affecting agricultural productivity, water quality, and freshwater sources. Urgent implementation of strategies to reduce human disturbance and increase conservation activities is imperative.
“The USLE equation has many parameters and some of them have to be assumed as per literature. This work was done with limited support for conducting physical tests and hence some parameters were assumed based on published literature. Future studies should aim to augment these data with field-based measurements,” adds Prof Pennan Chinnasamy as the limitation and forward directions of this study.
CALL TO ACTION
The findings present a call to action for policymakers, urging a focus on regional soil conservation measures. Professor Pennan Chinnasamy suggests collaboration between IIT Bombay researchers and state agencies to develop scientifically validated and data-driven best management plans. Monitoring and managing soil health are critical components in averting further damage to this fragile ecosystem.
As the Western Ghats faces a growing threat, the study advocates for immediate steps to mitigate climate change impacts, reduce anthropogenic disturbances, and safeguard the region’s invaluable biodiversity.