Environmental protection through engineering

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18 January 2022

Environmental protection through engineering

An interview to Professor Gian Battista Bischetti

It is a primary source for the sustenance of the Earth and therefore for our own survival, but the space it gains in the public debate is very limited. This is the reason why we should pay attention to the soil and its protection.

Soil, like water and air, is an invaluable source of biodiversity. In fact, it is fundamental to many biochemical processes, including the storage and transformation of water and carbon and the maintenance of gas balance in the air we breathe. Considered as a non-renewable resource due to the long formation time but extremely short degradation’s one, the soil must be protected – today more than ever – from the phenomenon of erosion, which consists in the wear of the most superficial layer of the soil in which the high organic matter is contained. Among the most common causes of soil degradation there are the action of winds and rainwater runoff, but also human activities, especially agriculture and deforestation. Climate change has a profound impact too; for example, changes in rainfall and water levels can displace soil, just as extreme temperature variations can make the topsoil more vulnerable to erosion.

The phenomenon of soil erosion, which is now occurring at an increasingly alarming rate, inevitably puts the survival of ecosystems at risk, leading to the deterioration or loss of the productive capacity of soils, which results into food insecurity, rising food prices and environmental risks.

Protecting the environment has always been Maccaferri goal, ever since the Group introduced the first solutions for hydraulic works and erosion protection to the market over 140 years ago. Over the years, Maccaferri has strengthened its commitment in this area, establishing partnerships with leading international universities to develop sustainable solutions. In this regard, in July 2021, the Group collaborated with Prof. Gian Battista Bischetti, Head of the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Milan, in the preparation of a study aimed at investigating the relationship between erosion control solutions and revegetation. In particular, the study highlights the positive impact given by the use of “geomats”.

Indeed, soil and vegetation are strongly intertwined: on the one hand, fertile soil encourages plant growth by supplying nutrients, acting as a water reservoir and serving as a substrate to which plants anchor their roots; on the other hand, vegetation can be an effective tool to counteract erosion because plant roots hold the soil in place and prevent it from being blown or washed away. In addition, trees, shrubs, hedges and plants help block corrosive wind, providing unbroken ground cover. Therefore, naturalistic engineering interventions on degraded soils aim to seek the perfect balance between these factors, so as to ensure the maximum protective action of vegetation against the phenomenon of soil erosion.