What Is Eutrophication? Causes, Effects, and More

Eutrophication is a process that occurs in nature, in bodies of water everywhere. It’s a large word, and it’s responsible for large problems in bodies of water all over the world. But what is eutrophication? What causes it and what does it do? We’re here to provide you with everything you need to know about eutrophication, the process, how it effects the environment, and what we can do to minimize its effects.

What Is Eutrophication?

When you’re wondering what is eutrophication, and how does it occur, you should first understand that eutrophication is caused by both natural and unnatural processes. It is a natural process that happens in bodies of water like lakes, ponds, and estuaries. Eutrophication is a natural, and even common phenomenon in bodies of water that are aging, as part of their natural process.

The word “eutrophication” derives from Greek words meaning “well-nourished” and “good food,” as it is an effect of over-nourishment in a body of water. The process can be both good and bad; and can be worsened by artificial sources.

Eutrophication is the process in which a body of water becomes over-enriched with nutrients and minerals, by way of excessive plants and algae. This over-enriching of the water can be caused by various things, and eutrophication can have an array of effects on the water and environment.

What Is Eutrophication

Causes of Eutrophication

Eutrophication happens when there is an oversupply of nutrients in a body of water. When these nutrients gather and grow, it results in an overgrowth of plants and algae. It is found in ponds, small lakes, and estuaries mostly due to the lack of a fresh-water outlet/inlet. These nutrients can come from a wide array of things, both natural and un-natural.

As a body of water ages over thousands of years, it can naturally become filled with more sediment. This sediment can include all types of bacteria, specimens, and animal-waste that finds its way to the water. When there is so much sediment in the water, eutrophication can naturally occur as a result of this build-up.

However, most of the eutrophication in today’s ponds, lakes, and estuaries is caused by human hands; in the form of waste, fertilizer, sewage, etc. When rain water or irrigation systems wash this waste and chemicals into the water, it helps to create eutrophication.

In fact, the vast majority of eutrophication is caused by human-dependence on substances like fertilizer, that use nitrate and phosphate. These particular chemicals are responsible for increasing the photosynthesis activity of algae and other aquatic life; causing a tremendous rate-in-growth.

What Does Eutrophication Do?

After understanding what is eutrophication and what causes it, one of the most important factors left is what it does. Eutrophication can result in the following:

  • Loss or death of aquatic life. As plants and algae grow as a result of eutrophication, the “blooms” limit the amount of available oxygen. When oxygen is depleted and it reaches hypoxic levels, the animal and plant-life under the water begin to suffocate. Eutrophication can lead to lessened biodiversity, dead zones, and loss of aquatic life.
  • Water-quality deterioration and limited drinking water. Eutrophication creates toxicity within the water and it only gets worse as it grows. This means the quality of water deteriorates as eutrophication worsens; becoming unhealthy to drink for both animal and human life. In fact, when toxicity-levels reach a particularly-high level, the water could poison (and kill) the human or animal that drinks it.
  • Limited fishing and recreational activities. Eutrophication lessens and decreases the opportunity for fishing, as both a hobby and occupation. Not only can it kill the aquatic life in the water, but the blooms make it difficult for navigating any type of boat or recreational vehicle. In addition, it decreases places for people and animals to safely swim.

Where Eutrophication Exists

effects of eutrophication

Eutrophication happens everywhere in the world, though it is most-likely to occur in certain “types” of water. As stated above in our description of what is eutrophication, it usually happens in smaller, slower-moving bodies of water. These bodies of water can include lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, estuaries, canals, etc.

Unlike larger bodies of water, which typically have faster-moving currents and outlets/inlets that distribute water elsewhere, these types of water-bodies are the ideal location for nutrient and chemical build-up. It is also commonly found in less-modernized countries, where irrigation- and sewage-systems may not be updated.

Can Eutrophication Be Prevented or Decreased?

There are plenty of ways to help prevent eutrophication and decrease the effects it has on the environment. A few methods for preventing (and treating) eutrophication include:

  • Reducing pollution. Much like other processes that are caused by the effect we have on the environment, eutrophication can be limited by limiting pollution. Reducing pollution is an effective method to reduce the amount of nutrients added to bodies of water all over the world.
  • Composting. The use of nitrate and phosphate fertilizers is a leading contributor in eutrophication. As an alternative to using fertilizer, composting consists of converting organic matter into compost manure. Compost can be made of food residues and decaying vegetation.
  • Changing/strengthening laws and regulations. By creating more regulations and stricter punishments surrounding environmental-impact, humans could help control the amount of waste found in water. To be more specific, regulations could be enhanced regarding water-quality standards and control non-point pollution.
  • Ultrasonic Irradiation. This process involves creating cavitations within the body of water, which product free radicals responsible for destroying algae cells. This is a relatively-new method and its overall efficiency has not yet been determined.

Summing Up

All the information you’ve seen here today about what is eutrophication, what causes it, and what can be done to prevent it will help you stay educated on the environment and do your part to help.

Eutrophication is a natural process that can be worsened by our impact on the world and can have a serious impact on the water and world around us, so what will you do to help?

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