Desertification Definition

by Laurent Cousineau
(Montreal)

Desertification is an effect of climate change

Desertification is an effect of climate change

Desertification is the degradation of land that could be used for agriculture or habitats, and is one of the most important environmental problems we are facing today.

It is categorized by a diminishing groundwater table, increasing erosion, the disappearance of native vegetation, a decrease in surface water, and a salt build-up in water and topsoil (the upper fertile layer of soil, from which plant roots take nutrients).

Where Does it Occur?

Often, it occurs in arid or semi-arid environments and consists of long-term changes to plant life, vegetation and soil.

Desertification should not be confused with droughts which have only short-term effects (but may also be a cause of the former).

The Causes of Desertification

Desertification is primarily an effect of climate change, and human activities namely:
  • Overgrazing in pastures
  • Over cropping (often done for exports)
  • Deforestation
  • Poorly managed irrigation systems (this leads to salinization, a build-up of mineral salts in the soil)
  • Exhaustion of water supplies for industrial use

The Effects of Desertification

In turn, desertification will have several effects including:
  • Famine
  • Wars for natural resources
  • Mass migration
  • Reduction of biodiversity
  • Increased risk of droughts and flooding
  • In some cases, barren land that are beyond restoration (permanent damage to soil)

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