38% of World's Land in Danger of Turning into Desert


Photo via ICRASN

If you're not familiar with desertification, it might be time to get acquainted. The term describes the process where land in drier areas becomes subject to 'extreme deterioration' as a result of human activities. It can be caused by any combination of the following: overgrazing, extracting too much water from aquifers, rerouting of water from its natural sources to population centers, and yes, warming climate. And a new report in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment has some pretty terrifying news: over a 3rd of the world's surface is in danger of desertification. Desertification is a devastating process in many ways--it leads to rapid biodiversity loss, as wildlife dependent on the depleting water sources die out or evacuate the area. After land has been a victim of desertification, it can no longer be effectively be used for farming or be of productive value--true to its name, the process essentially leaves arid desert where 'useful', life-supporting land used to be.

And now an analysis of the global desertification threat has revealed that 38% of surfaces around the world are vulnerable.

Science Daily reports:

Researchers have measured the degradation of the planet's soil using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a scientific methodology that analyses the environmental impact of human activities, and which now for the first time includes indicators on desertification. The results show that 38 percent of the world is made up of arid regions at risk of desertification.
Which is unfortunate news, to say the least. The study divided the world's land into "15 natural areas or "eco-regions" according to their degree of aridity." And 8 of those eco regions--that cover 38% of the planet--were deemed at risk of falling victim to desertification.

According to SD, the 8 areas most prone to turn into desert are:

  • coastal areas

  • the Prairies

  • the Mediterranean region

  • the savannah

  • the temperate Steppes

  • the temperate deserts

  • tropical and subtropical Steppes

  • the tropical and subtropical deserts

The areas at greatest risk are the subtropical deserts--areas in North Africa, Australia, and the Middle East were determined to have the highest desertification risk factor, a 7.6 out of 10. The Mediterranean region had the next highest risk. And mind bear in mind that while all of this sounds a little heavy on the doom and gloom side, it's very real: there are estimates that in China, for example, 1300 square miles of desert are created every year.

This sobering news means that an additional emphasis must be placed on land management and careful water conservation, especially in the most at-risk areas--unless we want to see a full third of the planet eventually get swallowed up in desert.

More on Desertification:
Australia Takes Lead on Combating Desertification
China Being Submerged in Sand: Desertification Spreads 1300 Square Miles Per Year
How Many People Live on Threatened Drylands?

Tags: Conservation | Global Climate Change