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What Is Desertification?
Science Soup
Posted: January 01, 2022


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How can a desert grow?

The process is called desertification. It changes land that could grow plants into desert. That leaves less fertile land for the people who live there. They may not be able to raise crops or animals for food.

Lots of things cause desertification:

  • Drought—Lack of rain can kill plants. Without plants to hold it down, good soil may blow away.
  • Overgrazing—Animals keep eating vegetation in one spot without giving it time to grow back.
  • Deforestation—People cut down forests without replanting them.
  • Rapid population growth—More people suddenly live in one spot. They use up resources like wood and water.
  • Fire—Plants’ roots help keep soil in place. If fire burns vegetation, soil can erode. That means soil is removed by wind or water.

Notice a pattern? Plants are important for keeping good dirt in place. If they are gone, the soil can wash or blow away. That’s why planting new trees and other plants can help—as long as they survive.

Some say the Sahara is creeping southward. But some scientists say otherwise. “The Sahara is not advancing, but fluctuating like waves on the ocean,” says researcher Stefanie Herrmann. That’s because there is less vegetation on the edges of the desert when there is less rain. When more rain came, more plants grew.

Land managers saw areas where lots of plant life was growing in Niger. But that mostly stopped at the border with Nigeria. That seemed strange. Nigeria gets more rain. Smithsonian Magazine reports that the difference was in how farmers managed trees. The farmers in Niger protected useful trees and let them grow.

When God makes everything right, He will restore the desert.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus. — Isaiah 35:1

Pray: For those who lack fertile ground and water for survival, especially in the Sahel, and for those studying ways to improve those areas.