From Snow to Sand

May 31, 2010

Torah Kachur

Science in Seconds On Location:  Torah in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.


As my colleagues suffer from yet another May snowfall in Canada (suckers), I am basking in the glow of the Mongolian steppes.  Mongolia is famous for the Gobi desert, Genghis Khan and, well, that's about it.  But there is more to Mongolia than herders and warriors....except I haven't found anything yet.



Mongolia is also becoming well known for being at the epicenter of evidence for global climate change.  Desertification of the Mongolian landscape made headlines this year, not because of a drought that killed off scores of livestock and left herders starving over the winter, but because tourists couldn't get a good picture of Tianamen Square in Beijing because of the dust storms.  Sure, blame Mongolians for dust storms, because they had soooooo much to do with increased CO2 emissions from the millions of cars choking the world's streets.


         Torah Kachur Science in Seconds mongolia Desertification Gobi dust storms

Desertification is a major problem across all continents - Sub-Saharan African countries like Niger are experiencing deathly droughts and North America isn't immune - Rio Puerco basin in New Mexico has seen decreased water quality because of high sediment levels from eroding soils.  And now I find myself here, in Mongolia facing goats in the streets and sand dunes creeping forever outwards. 


The single biggest cause of desertification is simple - overpopulation.  Increased necessity for grazing lands for livestock cause clear-cutting of forests so that any trace of soil gets blown away.   The increased population is becoming more picky as well - requiring daily showers, flushing toilets and, at the very least, water to drink.  The increased strain on water supplies and demand for meat is not only unsustainable, it is severly detrimental to the entire Asian continent.


At first glance, there seems like there is nothing we can do about desertification, besides kill people (not advisable).  But we can become better educated and efficient with our land and water use.  If you're reading this, you are likely not from the Gobi desert, but desertification affects you because with the ever-encroaching desert into arable land, the planet will be taxed to provide for the global population, on all continents.


Don't like snow in May?  Or breathing air filled with sand in Sydney or Beijing?  Then think about walking to work tomorrow, or planting a tree.  Climate change is, unfortunately, here to stay.



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