|Michael A. Katz |||Dec 15, 2014 09:22 PM EST|
(Photo : Reuters) After decades of growth and patience, a massive swath of trees planted across bone-dry northern China nearly 40 years ago is finally starting to reverse the desertification of the region.
After decades of growth and patience, a massive swath of trees planted across bone-dry northern China nearly 40 years ago is finally starting to reverse the desertification of the region.
In what is likely the largest ecological engineering project in history, China's Great Green Wall (officially known as the Three-North Shelter Forest Program) was started in 1978 and was created to fend off the encroaching Gobi desert. It is due to be completed in 2050, and is expected to contain more than 100 billion trees in a band covering more than one-tenth of China.
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"Vegetation has improved and dust storms have decreased significantly in the Great Green Wall region, compared with other areas," Minghong Tan of the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resource Research in Beijing told New Scientist.
Tan and colleague Xiubin Li analyzed rainfall data, satellite images and an index of dust storms and found conclusive evidence that the Green Wall is the main cause of the increase in vegetation and the decline in dust storms.
Away from the Wall, they found that vegetation cover and dust storms rise and fall based on the amount of precipitation. But closer to the trees, vegetation increased and dust storms diminished between 1981 and 1998. And Tan says the region continues to improve. "In most places in the study area, greenness continued to increase between 2000 and 2010," he said. "In North China as a whole, we think the environment is getting well."
The insatiable Gobi has been responsible for devouring 1,400 square miles of grassland each year. And each year, dust storms take off as much as 800 square miles of topsoil, and as a result the storms have increased in severity each year.
The fourth and most recent phase of the Great Green Wall was started in 2003 and included aerial seeding to cover large areas of land where the soil is less arid, and offering cash incentives to farmers who plant trees and shrubs in drier areas.
The Wall is intended to have a belt with sand-tolerant vegetation arranged in checkerboard patterns in order to stabilize the sand dunes. A gravel platform will be next to the vegetation to hold down sand and encourage a soil crust to form. The trees also intended to provide a windbreak from dust storms.
TagsChina’s Great Green Wall is Finally Holding Back the Desert, Great Green Wall, Three-North Shelter Forest Program, Gobi Desert, desertification, Minghong Tan, Xiubin Li, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resource Research, Great Green Wall Keeps Desert at Bay
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