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Lund University part of EU project on global land destruction


The EU is now entering an agreement with Lund University regarding research into the desertification. The background is that 40 research organizations from 16 countries recently gathered in Madrid to launch an EU project (DeSurvey) about land degradation and desertification in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. The EU funding is about SEK 75 million. Lund University will be taking part as the only Scandinavian unit, in the person of Professor Ulf Helldén at the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Analysis and the Center for GeoBiosphere Science.

DeSurvey is probably one of the largest commitments ever made to a single research project on desertification. It will be followed with great interest by a number of international organizations.

During the period 2005-2010 scientists will develop and test a new system for monitoring and modeling desertification and land destruction in terms of climate, the interplay of humans and nature, and the vulnerability of landscapes to processes of land destruction. Even though the desertification is seen as a global threat, there is no generally accepted diagnostic method for use in planning and in combating it.

“One of the reasons it has been so difficult to map the desertification and land degradation is that it is a politically sensitive issue. It involves the politics of developmental assistance, with powerful players like the World Bank and various UN bodies that have differing angles and interests,” says Professor Helldén.

Among other things, Professor Helldén has studied desertification south of the Sahara and was one of the first researchers in the early 1980s to demonstrate that desertification is not an irreversible process. Sometime a desert will spread, sometimes it will recede. The “march” of the Sahara southward was the result of exceptional precipitation conditions. But during the last two decades rainfall has returned to normal and the desert has receded. Nowadays the term “desertification” covers the destruction of land that is underway in many parts of the world.

DeSurvey’s areas of study are concentrated in the Mediterranean region of the EU, China, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, and Chile, with the active participation of research organizations from 10 EU countries and the above nations in Asia, Africa, and South America. EU countries taking part are Sweden, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. The project is to be coordinated by Professor Juan Puigdfabregas of the Spanish National Research Council.

The target area regarding land destruction in Europe will be the Mediterranean region.

“Especially Spain, Portugal, Greece, and to some extent Italy are experiencing severe problems of land destruction.

“There is a shortage of water, and the question is how to use it most economically. The EU also needs a better foundation for determining its agricultural subsidies for these areas,” says Ulf Helldén.

Lund University will be in charge of internally monitoring and assessing the development and implementation of the project and will assist in project direction, integrated modeling, satellite-based remote sensing analysis, and GIS operations.

Göran Frankel | alfa
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