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Desertification Caused by Human Activity Video

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  • 0:01 What Is Desertification?
  • 2:12 Human Influence on…
  • 3:46 Combating Desertification
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

The earth is constantly changing, and one very dramatic and important change is from fertile land to deserts. This process of desertification can occur naturally, but is often caused or accelerated by human actions. Humans can accelerate this process by overgrazing, poor irrigation techniques, diverting rivers, and deforestation. This large issue is a global problem that must be combated.

What Is Desertification?

We live in a world where climate change is often a hot topic of discussion. You often hear about temperature changes, sea level rising, and shifting climate zones. However, something that we don't hear so much about is that over recent years there has been an increase in the amount of land that is classified as a desert. Many lands that were once covered in vegetation are now barren and dry deserts. This overall change is known as desertification, which is the conversion of habitable and fertile land to uninhabitable desert.

Desertification occurs due to a decrease in vegetation. This can happen naturally due to a drought or can be caused by human activities. The lack of plants can cause changes to the land. Plants help shade the soil, so when plants are removed, the soil will be exposed to the sun and will dry out more quickly. The roots of plants often help hold soil in place.

If plants are removed, the soil will have nothing protecting it, and it will be more susceptible to erosion by wind. This will reduce fertility of the land because the top layer of soil that will be blown away by wind is often the richest in nutrients. Once this top layer of soil is removed, the land will no longer be fertile and will be unable to support the growth of vegetation. Eventually, the land will become so dry and devoid of vegetation that it will be classified as a desert.

The process of desertification can force people to move to new land. People rely on vegetation for food, to feed their livestock, and to heat their homes. If the land can no longer support vegetation, life for humans will be more difficult. This often results in people migrating to a different location where vegetation is still supported. If desertification continues, people may be forced to move away from warmer regions where desertification is more likely and closer to polar regions in order to find land that is habitable and fertile.

Human Influence on Desertification

Although desertification can occur naturally due to extreme droughts, there are many situations where the process of desertification has been caused or accelerated by human activities. Humans often divert rivers from their natural path in order to use the water for agriculture. The land along the original river path will become vulnerable to desertification. This area will no longer have a water supply, and vegetation will likely die off and lead to desert conditions.

Poor irrigation techniques on farms can also lead to desertification. If farmers use too much water or use water inefficiently, they will reduce the overall water supply in the area. This can lead to vegetation loss and eventually desertification.

Overgrazing and deforestation are two additional human activities that can lead to desertification. Overgrazing occurs when farmers allow livestock to graze to the point where they damage the vegetation. This can happen when farmers have too many livestock in a small area or when they keep livestock in an area for a long period of time.

Deforestation is the process of removing trees and transforming a forest into cleared land. This is often done to make room for farming or housing for the growing human population. Both overgrazing and deforestation can lead to desertification because they remove or damage the vegetation that is protecting the land and keeping it moist and fertile.

Combating Desertification

The process of desertification is permanent and cannot be reversed naturally. Once the land becomes a desert, it will stay a desert. This is of great concern because as more land becomes desert, there is a reduction in the amount of fertile land that we as humans can depend on to grow our food. Due to these factors, it is extremely important to stop desertification from occurring and to save the land that is at risk.

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