Desertification is thought by many to affect only hot and arid areas, like those in parts of Africa. In fact, though, desertification is a problem on every continent except Antarctica. Seventy percent of drylands around the world have experienced the soil degradation associated with desertification, and as much as one-third of the planet's surface is threatened by it. The Sahel region of the Sahara Desert is a prominent example of the problem. The United States is not immune to this problem either. Over the last 30 years, data has indicated that our Southwest region has become drier and hotter, making it particularly susceptible to desertification.
A good U.S. example of desertification is, of course, the "Dust Bowl" in the Great Plains that took place during the drought of the 1930s. Not only was the drought drying things up, but farming practices of the day contributed mightily as well. A great many people had to leave their farming ways and find work elsewhere, because the parched Earth was not arable. Fortunately, in this case, farmers used better agriculture methods and were smarter about managing water [source: USGS].
Science hasn't yet arrived at a consensus for what the definitive causes of desertification might be. It's a process researchers have not entirely been able to pin down. On the bright side, there does seem to be the belief that it is not manifestly irreversible.
Until desertification is fully understood, there are, in the interim, steps that can be taken in areas where it has occurred. Making better use of existing water supplies, and controlling saline content could go a long way toward helping fortify dry areas. Meanwhile, constructing defenses against the wind can help lessen the movement of sand. For example, area residents can help keep sand dunes in place by shielding them from the wind with boulders or covering the dunes with petroleum. Sand fences can also help cut down on the wind. In oases areas, meanwhile, tree fences and grass belts can combat the wind. China is even planting an enormous "green wall" that will stretch some 5,700 kilometers (3,542 miles) to protect northeastern sandy areas created by people of the region [source: USGS].
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