More Grass Growing Means Less Dust Blowing
Green walls are good news for pastures on land, but bad news for ocean pastures.
CHINA has been pushing back the desert for 3 decades by the ongoing planting of the Great Green Wall. This feat of good human intention and dedicated labor is seeing a band of grass and trees being planted across China’s arid northern and western plains in what might be the largest ecological engineering project on the planet. And it is working according to a new study.
“Vegetation has improved and dust storms have decreased significantly in the Great Green Wall region, compared with other areas,” says Minghong Tan of the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resource Research in Beijing.
This work is much like that instituted in the 1930’s in the United States in response to the deadly dust storms of the “dirty thirties.”
During President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office in 1933 the dust storms blew so hard and so persistently, carrying so much soil that he was able to swipe his finger across his desk in the Oval Office and touch the vital soil of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and other states. The video below shows the US dust bowl conditions before soil conservation practice saved the North American western plains from blowing away.
Roosevelt ordered his administration to initiate programs to conserve soil and restore the ecological balance of the nation. The work of a newly formed US Soil Conservation Service succeeded in changing the face of N. American dryland ecosystems and agriculture and ending the dust bowl conditions conserving hundreds of millions of tonnes of precious topsoil.
Asia is the largest source of dust in Northern Hemisphere
The Gobi and Taklamakan deserts and drylands of northern China are the Northern Hemispheres biggest dust bowls. Dust blown by the winds there can shroud Beijing in choking dust but more importantly they provide life-giving vital mineral rich dust to both the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans.
In an effort to tame the dust blowing from its western drylands in 1978 China began planting the Great Green Wall, which is officially called the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Programme. It is due for completion in 2050 and will eventually contain more than 100 billion trees in a 4500-kilometre belt, covering more than a tenth of the country. The Chinese don’t offer a number for the amount of grass planted as their grass plantings dwarf this worlds largest tree-planting program.
Watch this story of a Chinese couples lifelong dedication to the great green wall.
Much credit for decrease in dust storms in the region that has been seen since the start of the ‘green wall’ project must also be given to the dramatic savings of moisture created by rising CO2 in the world’s air which provides plants with the ability to cut back on their evapo-transpiration loss of water. There is also a coincident small rise in rainfall over the past three decades. But Tan and co-author Xiubin Li say that their analysis of rainfall data, satellite images and an index of dust storms shows conclusively that the Green Wall is the main cause of the improvement (Land Use Policy, doi.org/xk2). Read more about global greening here…
Away from the wall, vegetation cover and dust storms have risen and fallen with precipitation. But within the green wall region, vegetation increased and dust storms diminished between 1981 and 1998, the end of the study period. Tan says the improvement has since continued.
“In most places in the study area, greenness continued to increase between 2000 and 2010,” Tan says. “In North China as a whole, we think the environment is getting well.”
There are critics of the Green Wall who do not challenge the results presented in Tan’s research or the evidence of long-term success as seen in the video above, but the critics are quick to offer worrisome offhand comments warning from their pundit seats that perhaps Tan’s work with tree-planting does not tell the whole story.
Tan agrees that the authorities should not just focus only on increasing forests. “Grass may be better in most places in north China,” he says. and of course he points out that grass planting is a major part of the growing green wall program.
Yin and Yang of dust and rain
We now know not all seemingly good green news is good news everywhere. Soil conservation along with high and rising CO2 in our atmosphere is growing lots of ground cover the world around. That ground cover is working a miracle on land and preventing vital topsoil and vital mineral dust from blowing in the wind.
Coincident to the slowing of dust blowing in the wind in each and every five years since we started watching closely in the 1980’s we have seen and measured a terrible loss of ocean plant life, the ocean pastures and their phytoplankton in an amount that is the same as if we had clear-cut an entire Amazon Rainforest worth of plants on land every five years. That’s more rainforest gone than has ever existed in human history.
This catastrophic drought of dust and loss of ocean pasture plant life, the plankton blooms, is the most desperate news on this blue planet. Read more on this Yin and Yang of land and sea here…
Don’t despair here’s the good news.
The ocean pastures are so resilient they will come back to health in a single season with a very little help from us. All they need is a little dust, in the wind or from our human hands a tiny portion of that same dust delivered to replenish that which we are denying the ocean pastures. Being good shepherds of ocean pastures will cost a tiny fraction of the great green wall and it will bring back the fish putting a billion additional fish on the plates of hungry people in China and around the world. Read more here at Bring Back The Fish.
I call upon the Chinese people to lead the world and begin to restore theirs and our ocean pastures with the same good intentions and work they are showing in their fruitful Great Green Wall efforts.
More Great Green Walls Underway In Africa
The African Union aims to tame the Sahara with a Great Green Wall of trees, grasses and shrubs. (Sustainability, doi.org/xk5). The Great Green Wall is an international project developed by the African Union to stop and reduce the desertification in South Sahara. The Great Green Wall project aims to revegetate 15 million hectares along a 15 km-wide, 7,775 km-long belt, from Dakar to Djibouti.
This project has received a commitment of nearly $2 billion dollars from the World Bank and other international organizations. It aims to be both a soil conservation effort and in doing so help create more sustainable land management and grow more food.
UPDATE July 2016:
20/07/2016 Rome – During a high-level event on the Great Green Wall initiative, leaders of African countries called for increased investment in combatting desertification and land degradation to improve the lives of the people of Africa’s drylands.
“FAO is committed to scaling up support to the Great Green Wall initiative,” said José Graziano Da Silva, FAO’s Director-General of FAO. “It offers hope for prosperity and well-being to the local communities at the heart of our efforts.”
Brah Mahamat, Minister for Environment, Water & Fisheries from Chad, speaking on behalf of the African Union that leads the initiative, emphasized the epic ambitions of Africa’s flagship rural development programme. “The Great Green Wall is one of the most audacious efforts in human history,” he said.
But the task ahead is daunting, he warned. To rehabilitate ten per cent of the total area around the Sahara desert affected by desertification, estimated at 600 million hectares would require an investment of about $143 billion USD.
“We need to think big and see big,” said FAO’s Deputy Director General Maria Helena Semedo in her closing remarks. “It’s time to scale-up.”