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The word “desertification” was introduced in 1949 by the French scientist Aubreville in his report “Climats, forêts et désertification de l´Afrique tropicale”. The concept, however, was discussed earlier by European and American scientists in terms of increased sand movements, desiccation, desert and Sahara encroachment and man made deserts.

Desertification, at the beginning of last century, meant the spreading (expansion) of deserts or desert-like (non productive or very low productive) conditions from existing deserts into non-desert areas close to the desert margins. The symptoms of the phenomena were often related to sand movement and encroachment into oasis and desert margins. Aubreville also stated in 1949 that there are real deserts being born, under our very eyes, in the 700-1500 mm annual rainfall areas.

At that time, one school favored the idea of a postglacial long term climate change (desiccation) as a major driving force causing desertification. Others stressed the importance of human impact. The human impact was expressed in terms of bad management of the natural resources including over cutting, overgrazing, over cultivation and misuse of water.

Since then, different concepts of desertification have developed and been discussed over and over again by scientists, politicians and the international aid and development society. Important international events were UNCOD in Nairobi 1977, UNCED in Rio de Janeiro 1992 followed up by the UNCCD adopted in 1994 and entering into force in 1996.

The choice of land degradation mitigation strategies and the degree of resulting control success varies with the prevailing concepts of causes and consequences. These concepts are dependent on the monitoring approach used. This is exemplified through a discussion of a few desertification monitoring case studies followed by a presentation of a recent EU integrated assessment, monitoring and modelling initiative, DeSurvey (2005-2010). The initiative is targeting desertification affected areas in Europe, Africa, China and South America. It probably constitutes the largest ever international research project to exclusively focus on desertification surveillance and assessment.

Conclusion: The causes, consequences and methods of control of desertification cannot be generalized but are site specific. Every site and case needs its own diagnosis, based on an integrated and systemic survey approach, before the right cure can be identified and implemented. The DeSurvey consortium aims at developing a generic survey, monitoring and modelling system for such an approach.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography


  • desertification, modelling, monitoring, EU
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings: Local & Regional Desertification Indicators in a Global Perspective
EditorsGiuseppe Enne, Maria eroyanni
PublisherEuropean Commission
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch
EventLocal & Regional Desertification Indicators in a Global Perspective.-AIDCCD-Active exchange of experience on indicators and development of prespectives in the context of UNCCD - Beijing, China
Duration: 2005 May 162005 May 18


ConferenceLocal & Regional Desertification Indicators in a Global Perspective.-AIDCCD-Active exchange of experience on indicators and development of prespectives in the context of UNCCD

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