Change and Instability in the Desert Environment

  • Andrew S. Goudie
Part of the Horizons in Geography book series (HOGE)


Deserts cover approximately one-third of the Earth’s land surface, constitute one of the world’s major ecosystems and provide a significant contribution to the global economy. They provide at least a fifth of the world’s food supplies, over half of the world’s production of precious and semi-precious minerals, and a substantial proportion of oil and natural gas reserves. They are also areas of very rapid technological and demographic change, with, for example, many instances of quickly developing urbanisation. Many of the great deserts are of considerable antiquity. For example, recent studies of aeolian sediments in dated ocean cores have shown that materials have been removed by deflation from arid surfaces in the vicinity of the present Sahara since the Cretaceous and Tertiary. However, during the course of these millions of years the deserts have undergone a series of major changes at a variety of scales. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the nature, causes and consequences of this variability, and to examine some of the ways in which it relates to human activities.


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Further Reading

  1. Access to the very wide literature of the arid lands can be achieved by way of three specific themes selected from those developed in the chapter. First, the notion of environmental change is clearly of fundamental importance when studying the world’s desertsGoogle Scholar
  2. Goudie A. S. (1983) Environmental Change, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
  3. Goudie A. S. (1983) ‘Dust storms in space and time’, Progress in Physical Geography, vol. 7, pp. 502–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cooke R. U. and Reeves R. W. (1976) Arroyos and Environmental Change in the American South-west (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
  5. Graf W. L. (1983) ‘The Arroyo problem — palaeohydrology and palaeohydraulics in the short term’, in Gregory K. J. (ed.) Background to Palaeohydrology (Chichester: John Wiley) pp. 279–302.Google Scholar
  6. Secondly, change can be related very specifically to the complex but fundamental concept of desertificationGoogle Scholar
  7. Uncod (1977) Desertification: Its Causes and Consequences (Oxford: Pergamon Press).Google Scholar
  8. Worster D. (1979) Dust Bowl (New York: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  9. Spooner B. and Mann H. S. (eds) (1982) Desertification and Development: Dryland Ecology in Social Perspective (London: Academic Press).Google Scholar
  10. Dregne H. (1977) ‘Desertification of arid lands’, Economic Geography, vol. 53, pp. 322–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Thirdly, the arid lands today present many challenges to the geographer, both pure and applied. From many possibilities we might selectGoogle Scholar
  12. Heathcote R. L. (1983) The Arid Lands: Their Use and Abuse (London: Longman).Google Scholar
  13. Cooke R. U., Brunsden D., Doornkamp J. C. and Jones D. K. C. (1983) Urban Geomorphology in Drylands (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  14. Worthington E. B. (ed.) (1977) Arid Land Irrigation in Developing Countries: Environmental Problems and Effects (Oxford: Pergamon Press).Google Scholar
  15. Butzer K. W. (1974) ‘Accelerated soil erosion: a problem of man-land relationships’, in Manners I. R. and Mikesell M. W. (eds) Perspectives on Environments (Washington DC: Association of American Geographers).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Andrew S. Goudie 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew S. Goudie
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OxfordUK

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