Environmental Impacts Humans have on Desert Ecosystems

Approximately 80 years ago, during the Great Depression, the western United States was swallowed in dirt. The West was associated with agriculture then and due to improper farming and ranching methods, the desert suffocated much of the Great Plains. Fast-forward  to now and observe the Gobi Desert of Asia, like many other deserts presently, is experiencing what occurred in America during the 1930’s. Grassland ecosystems are morphing into scrublands and sand-scapes, all at the mercy of humankind.

One of the major examples of how deserts expand is careless agricultural techniques. In particular, irrigation is a massive issue. If a water source is spread out too thin, it is subject to the suns all reaching evaporative rays. Also, the arid earth, not intended to be farmed, will absorb water from irrigation systems. Extracting water from underground sources is another cause of drying up lakes and other main sources of water.

Overuse of water is obviously an additional wrong way to irrigate. Water-conservation conscious irrigation should be employed. In addition, the type of livestock typically used for ranching are the incorrect type for maintaining grasslands, according to Michael Tennesen in his article “Fighting Against a Global Dust Bowl.” Heavy cattle, that aggregate together while they graze, disturb the soil in highly concentrated areas. This results in the uprooting of grass and the increased erosion of soil (Tennesen). There is an alternative for ranching livestock that will satisfy the needs of the environment and mankind. The Criollo cattle are desert adapted; they eat shrubs not grass. Shrubs are known to divert nutrients from grass. Criollo do not congregate; they weigh less than other cows due to their leaner stature, they need less food and can travel further on small amounts of food (Tennesen). Furthermore, unsustainable harvesting is to blame. Crops should be harvested in portions of the land; once harvested, crops should be rotated to another section of land to allow for nutrient replenishment. Many farmers in the east do not practice crop rotation so nutrients are depleted; crops die and desert appears.

Another example of how desert ecosystems are affected by humans is soil erosion. Soil, when undisturbed, has a crust composed of biological material and minerals (Tennesen). When this crust is broken up it is exposed to wind and water erosion. Erosion occurs when land is plowed; this is an unavoidable incidence in farming. This catalyzes wind erosion, making dirt easily accessible to the open air. To prevent erosion, plants need to be rotated in certain areas throughout the farm plot. Erosion also ensues when cities or towns expand. When expansion takes place, construction and movement break up soil. Preventive measures could be made during expansion to avoid erosion. For instance, fences that halt or deter wind erosion and promote the growth of grass could be installed temporarily until the soil forms its crust again (Tennesen). Biological materials and/or minerals could be deposited on aerated soil to expedite the crust formation processes.

Another example of how humans impact deserts environmentally is population increase. As populations increase more water is used before it is regenerated. Proper water-conservation is a mean of preventing desertification. Deforestation uproots soil allowing it to be swept away easily by wind and water. This can be avoided by reducing mankind’s needs for lumber, which could be done by averting these needs to a different, sustainable material. It’s just a matter of developing or finding such a thing.

Pollution is an additional example of desertification caused by humans. As global warming persists, the sun sucks water from Earth. Deserts grow as water is evaporated. When the winds sweep the sands and dust storms generate, sunlight is trapped in the atmosphere and the reflection of sunlight by ice is disrupted, resulting in more global warming. The only real way to stop this is to reduce pollution, which is no easy feat.

Humans impact desert ecosystems in several ways such as practicing problematic agricultural methods, breaking up soils’ crust, increasing population and augmenting pollution. Many countries and continents contain and affect desert ecosystems: Australia, America, Africa and Asia for instance. Conservation, compromise, prevention, and reduction are the motto for reversing desertification. Desertification has a massive effect on the environment and the world. There are other implications of trouble associated with desertification such as a depression in the economy and famine. The Dust Bowl during the Great Depression foreshadowed the dust bowl of the Gobi Desert, yet the world refused to examine history and how it juxtaposes to now. It is imperative that something is done to stop or reverse desertification. The best way to start is share this information with the people you know and remember that history tends to repeat itself especially when it is ignored or forgotten.