[Solved] The process of desertification does not have climate boundaries. Justify with examples (UPSC 2020)

Wladimir Köppen developed the climate classification system to define climatic boundaries categorizing climate zones all over the world based on local vegetation which is dependent on temperature and precipitation there. What happens when there is no scope left for the process of vegetating? When human activities and climatic variations as a result of these activities degrade land in large pockets and beyond arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, no climatic boundary can hold the widening expanse of desertification which is the process by which fertile land becomes desert due to drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture.

Land use and land cover changes in many dryland areas have increased the frequency and intensity of dust storms across the Arabian Peninsula and broader Middle East, Central Asia. Increased land surface air temperature with other factors has contributed to desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of East and Central Asia, and Australia.

The net anthropogenic flux of CO2 because of land cover change including deforestation resulted in a worldwide increase in the area undergoing desertification. The biggest threat is the extremity of desertification that is the complete loss of land productivity imposing constraints on temperature and precipitation which are defining elements of climatic boundaries.

There are many factors that contribute to the process of increasing desertification. Moreover, the process of desertification is not just restricted to a particular climate boundary, i.e. arid and semi-arid areas. It is a global phenomenon that can be corroborated in the following examples.

  • Climate Change: Climate change is a global issue that poses a threat to all progress done by mankind in the last two centuries. The effect of Climate change is also a significant factor in increasing desertification.
    • As the land surface is warming more quickly than the Earth’s surface as a whole, this results in smaller increases in surface ocean temperatures compared to the land surface as global temperatures rise.
    • Further, both natural variabilities in climate and global warming can also affect rainfall patterns around the world, which can contribute to desertification.
    • While this sustained, human-caused warming can by itself add to heat stress faced by vegetation, it is also linked to worsening extreme weather events like Floods, Droughts, Landslides.
  • Soil Erosion: One of the main processes for desertification is erosion. This is typically through some force of nature such as wind, rain, and waves, but can be exacerbated by man-made activities including plowing, grazing, or deforestation.
    • The World Atlas of Desertification (2018) indicated that it is not possible to deterministically map the global extent of land degradation.
    • Further, soil erosion is a global phenomenon that affects almost all major biomes in the world.
    • The occurrences of dust storms in northern India testifies to this observation.
  • Loss of Soil Fertility: A loss of soil fertility is another form of degradation. In order to increase agricultural production, whether it is a developed or developing country, soils are being exposed to the overuse of fertilizers.
    • Due to this salinization and acidification of soils is increasing.
  • Urbanization: According to several reports, urbanization is increasing at a rapid pace. Even in India, almost 50% of the population is expected to live in urban areas, by 2050.
    • As urbanization increases, the demand for resources increases, drawing more resources and leaving lands that easily succumb to desertification.

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