Abstract

Humans move increasingly large amounts of rock and sediment during various construction activities, and mean rates of cropland soil loss may exceed rates of formation by up to an order of magnitude, but appreciating the actual importance of humans as agents of global erosion necessitates knowledge of prehistoric denudation rates imposed on land surfaces solely by natural processes. Amounts of weathering debris that compose continental and oceanic sedimentary rocks provide one such source of information and indicate that mean denudation over the past half-billion years of Earth history has lowered continental surfaces by a few tens of meters per million years. In comparison, construction and agricultural activities currently result in the transport of enough sediment and rock to lower all ice-free continental surfaces by a few hundred meters per million years. Humans are now an order of magnitude more important at moving sediment than the sum of all other natural processes operating on the surface of the planet. Relationships between temporal trends in land use and global population indicate that humans became the prime agents of erosion sometime during the latter part of the first millennium A.D.

You do not currently have access to this article.