A new study published in the journal Soil Use and Management attempts for the first time to measure the extent and severity of land degradation across the globe and concludes that 24% of the land area is degrading – often in very productive areas.
Land degradation - the decline in the quality of soil, water and vegetation – is of profound importance but until now there have been no consistent global data by which to assess its extent and severity.
For nearly thirty years the world has depended on the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (GLASOD) based on the subjective judgement of soil scientists who knew the conditions in their countries. GLASOD indicated that 15 per cent of the land area was degraded, but this was a map of perceptions, rather than measurement of land degradation.
The new study by Bai et al. measures global land degradation based on a clearly defined and consistent method using remotely sensed imagery. The results are startling. The new assessment indicates that 24 per cent of the land has been degraded over the period 1981-2003 - but there is hardly any overlap with the GLASOD area that recorded the cumulative effects of land degradation up to about 1990.
One of the authors, Dr David Dent of ISRIC - World Soil Information explains: "Degradation is primarily driven by land management and catastrophic natural phenomena.
Our study shows the extent and severity of land degradation measured in terms of loss of net primary productivity, making allowance for climatic variability. Overall, a quarter of the world's population depends directly on these degrading areas. The worst-hit areas are Africa south of the Equator, SE Asia and S China. The worst-affected countries, with more than 50 per cent of territory degrading are, in Africa, the Congo, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Zambia and the most affected (95 per cent degrading) Swaziland; in Asia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Korea and Indonesia. In terms of the rural population affected, the greatest numbers are in China, with nearly half a billion, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Brazil. The usual suspects, such as the African Sahel and around the Mediterranean are much less affected."
The resulting loss of carbon fixation from the atmosphere over the measured period amounts to a thousand million tonnes. At a shadow price of $50 per tonne, the loss of carbon fixed amounts to $50 billion – and the real cost is far greater in terms of emissions to the atmosphere through loss of soil organic carbon.
Comparison with land use reveals that 19% of the degrading area is cropland and 43% forest. Cropland occupies 12% of the land area and forest 28%, so both are affected disproportionately.
The study found only weak correlations between degrading land and rural population density and with biophysical factors such aridity. The researchers conclude that more detailed analysis of land use history is needed to uncover the underlying social and economic drivers of land degradation.
Samantha Holford | EurekAlert!
New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fighting a destructive crop disease with mathematics
21.06.2017 | University of Cambridge
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.06.2017 | Information Technology