Thar desert expanding fast with land degradation, finds study

‘Sandstorms may travel to NCR in coming years’

December 20, 2021 01:15 am | Updated 01:15 am IST - JAIPUR

Along with the gradual destruction of the Aravali ranges, the mighty Thar desert in western Rajasthan is expanding fast because of migration of people, changes in the rainfall pattern, spread of sand dunes and unscientific plantation drives. The degradation of land is posing a threat to the desert ecology, while the climate change has contributed to the spread of arid region.

With these findings, a study on desertification of Thar region conducted by the Central University of Rajasthan has predicted that the sandstorms from the desert will travel as far as the National Capital Region (NCR) in the years to come. The sandstorms will become intense with the erosion of Aravali hills, which act as a ‘natural green wall’ between the desert and the plains.

The study was undertaken as part of an assessment of the environmentally sensitive areas within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The scientists associated with the project studied the climate and vegetation in Thar, which is the word’s ninth largest hot subtropical desert, to understand the desertification process.

Loss of Aravalis

Laxmi Kant Sharma of the Central University of Rajasthan’s School of Earth Sciences, who along with two other scientists undertook the study, told The Hindu that the loss of Aravali hills because of unchecked mining activities would result in the sandstorms travelling to NCR and Delhi. “The suspended particles from the arid region are contributing to air pollution in NCR. The sandstorms will hit this area because of the desert expanding in the eastern direction,” Dr. Sharma said.

Since no mechanism has evolved so far to control the spread of sand dunes, the desertification will make an impact on the Aravali ranges’ northern part as an ecotonal area, acting as transition zone between the ecological systems. Dr. Sharma said the over-exploitation of resources had led to reduction in vegetation cover in the areas adjacent to the Thar desert, contributing to its expansion beyond four districts in western Rajasthan.

The study, which focused on Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur districts covering more than 50% of Thar desert, found that Jodhpur, situated near the Aravali hills, had witnessed a slow speed of desertification. It also found that the vegetation cover and waterbodies had increased in the area in the last 46 years and the complex sand region had decreased by 4.98%.

Dr. Sharma said new plans should be evolved for conservation of the Aravali ranges to stop the desertification towards eastern parts of the State. The study was published recently in the prestigious Journal of Arid Environments.

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