Special Issue "Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies"

A special issue of Land (ISSN 2073-445X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2017)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Troy Sternberg

School of Geography, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 44(0)1865 285070
Interests: deserts environments; natural hazards; risk; climate; water; degradation
Guest Editor
Dr. Ariell Ahearn

School of Geography, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 44(0)1865 285070
Interests: pastoralism; rural systems in drylands; socio-economic change; human land use; governance

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Understanding deserts and drylands is essential as arid landscapes cover >40% of the Earth and are home to two billion people. Today's problematic environment–human interaction needs contemporary knowledge to address dryland complexity. Physical dimensions in arid zones—land systems, climate and hazards, ecology—are linked with social processes that directly impact drylands, such as land management, livelihoods, and development. Challenges require integrated research that identifies systemic drivers across global arid regions. Measurement and monitoring, field investigation, remote sensing, and data analysis are effective tools to investigate natural dynamics. Equally, inquiry into how policy and practice affect landscape sustainability is key to mitigating detrimental activity in deserts. Exploring relations between socio-economic forces and degradation, agro-pastoral rangeland use, drought and disaster and resource extraction reflect land interactions. Contemporary themes of food security, conflict and conservation are interlinked in arid environments.

This Special Issue unifies desert science, arid environments, and dryland development. We seek papers that identify land dynamics, address system risks and delineate human functions through original research in arid zones. Mixed methodologies that reflect the vital links between social and environmental science in global deserts is welcome. Work that engages with today's topical themes and presents novel analyses is particularly encouraged.

Dr. Troy Sternberg
Dr. Ariell Ahearn
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Land is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 350 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Pastoralism and Land Tenure Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Conflicting Policies and Priorities in Ngamiland, Botswana
Land 2017, 6(4), 89; doi:10.3390/land6040089
Received: 2 November 2017 / Revised: 25 November 2017 / Accepted: 27 November 2017 / Published: 11 December 2017
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Abstract
In dryland Africa, access to land and water resources are central to pastoral livelihood activities. Policy intervention in these regions represents the outcome of concerted post-independence processes in which countries have committed to land tenure transformation as a policy objective. This was meant
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In dryland Africa, access to land and water resources are central to pastoral livelihood activities. Policy intervention in these regions represents the outcome of concerted post-independence processes in which countries have committed to land tenure transformation as a policy objective. This was meant to create private, liberal property rights to replace communal customary tenure systems which were considered to be a constraint to development. Despite these efforts, decades of scientific research indicate that countries are still struggling to meet environmental sustainability objectives. Land degradation where it existed has not been halted and traditional pastoral livelihoods have been disrupted. The overall evidence base for policymaking remains weak as deficiencies in data or information on which management decisions were based led to poor policy performance. In a bid to strengthen understanding in this area, this study has a dual aim: 1. Using a systematic review of the literature, we examine the impact of land tenure transformation in pastoral areas in sub-Saharan Africa; 2. We analyse user-perspectives on land tenure transformation and pastoralists’ rights in Ngamiland, Botswana, so as to draw out the salient issues that must be addressed in order to reconcile pastoral tenure conflicts and land management in sub-Saharan Africa. Results from meta-analysis and case study show that land tenure transformation policies across pastoral areas are subject to similar challenges and consequences. Protecting pastoral land rights requires deliberate policy interventions that recognise pastoralism as a productive and efficient use of resources. Policymakers need to overcome anti-pastoral prejudice and focus on Sustainable Land Management goals. This entails establishing negotiated and flexible tenure frameworks that strengthen pastoralists’ participation in decision-making arenas by working with pastoral communities on the basis of understanding their livelihood system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Determining the Frequency of Dry Lake Bed Formation in Semi-Arid Mongolia From Satellite Data
Land 2017, 6(4), 88; doi:10.3390/land6040088
Received: 25 October 2017 / Revised: 6 December 2017 / Accepted: 6 December 2017 / Published: 8 December 2017
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Abstract
In the Mongolian Plateau, the desert steppe, mountains, and dry lake bed surfaces may affect the process of dust storm emissions. Among these three surface types, dry lake beds are considered to contribute a substantial amount of global dust emissions and to be
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In the Mongolian Plateau, the desert steppe, mountains, and dry lake bed surfaces may affect the process of dust storm emissions. Among these three surface types, dry lake beds are considered to contribute a substantial amount of global dust emissions and to be responsible for “hot spots” of dust outbreaks. The land cover types in the study area were broadly divided into three types, namely desert steppe, mountains, and dry lake beds, by a classification based on Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) calculated from MODIS Terra satellite images, and Digital Elevation Model (DEM). This dry lake beds extracting method using remote sensing offers a new technique for identifying dust hot spots and potential untapped groundwater in the dry lands of the Gobi region. In the study area, frequencies of dry lake bed formation were calculated during the period of 2001 to 2014. The potential dry lake area corresponded well with the length of the river network based on hydrogeological characterization (R2 = 0.77, p < 0.001). We suggest that the threshold between dry lake bed areas and the formation of ephemeral lakes in semi-arid regions is eight days of total precipitation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Bequest of the Norseman—The Potential for Agricultural Intensification and Expansion in Southern Greenland under Climate Change
Land 2017, 6(4), 87; doi:10.3390/land6040087
Received: 20 October 2017 / Revised: 1 December 2017 / Accepted: 4 December 2017 / Published: 7 December 2017
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Abstract
The increase of summer temperatures and a prolonged growing season increase the potential for agricultural land use for subarctic agriculture. Nevertheless, land use at borderline ecotones is influenced by more factors than temperature and the length of the growing season, for example soil
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The increase of summer temperatures and a prolonged growing season increase the potential for agricultural land use for subarctic agriculture. Nevertheless, land use at borderline ecotones is influenced by more factors than temperature and the length of the growing season, for example soil quality, as the increasing lengths of dry periods during vegetation season can diminish land use potential. Hence, this study focuses on the quality of the soil resource as possible limiting factor for land use intensification in southern Greenland. Physical and chemical soil properties of cultivated grasslands, reference sites and semi-natural birch and grassland sites were examined to develop a soil quality index and to identify the suitability of soils for a sustainable intensification and expansion of the agriculture. The study revealed that soils in the study area are generally characterized by a low effective cation exchange capacity (CECeff) (3.7 ± 5.0 meq 100 g−1), low pH CaCl2 (4.6 ± 0.4) and low clay and silt content (3.0 ± 1.0% and 38.2 ± 4.7%, respectively). Due to the high amount of coarse fraction (59.1 ± 5.8%) and the low amount of soil nutrients, an increasing threat of dry spells for soils and yield could be identified. Further, future land use intensification and expansion bears a high risk for concomitant effects, namely further soil acidification, nutrient leaching and soil degradation processes. However, results of the soil quality index also indicate that sites which were already used by the Norseman (980s–1450) show the best suitability for agricultural use. Thus, these areas offer a possibility to expand agricultural land use in southern Greenland. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Identifying Hot Spots of Critical Forage Supply in Dryland Nomadic Pastoralist Areas: A Case Study for the Afar Region, Ethiopia
Land 2017, 6(4), 82; doi:10.3390/land6040082
Received: 26 October 2017 / Revised: 10 November 2017 / Accepted: 13 November 2017 / Published: 18 November 2017
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Abstract
This study develops a methodology to identify hot spots of critical forage supply in nomadic pastoralist areas, using the Afar Region, Ethiopia, as a special case. It addresses two main problems. First, it makes a spatially explicit assessment of fodder supply and demand
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This study develops a methodology to identify hot spots of critical forage supply in nomadic pastoralist areas, using the Afar Region, Ethiopia, as a special case. It addresses two main problems. First, it makes a spatially explicit assessment of fodder supply and demand extracted from a data poor environment. Fodder supply is assessed by combining rainfall-based production functions and rule-based assessment for prevailing land use. Fodder demand is based on a data consistency check of livestock statistics concerning herd size, composition and geographical distribution. Second, individual herd movements have to be evaluated jointly in concurrent migration patterns to assess local pressures on fodder resources. We, therefore, apply a transition model that relates stock levels to seasonal migration routings for all Afar sub-clans jointly so as to localize the hot spots where feed demand exceeds forage supply. Critical areas come to the fore, especially, near fringes of Highlands and in the southern part of the Afar. A sensitivity test shows that ‘Baseline’ scenario is close to the ‘Best’ but under ‘Worst’, the Afar region would fall into despair. We conclude that the model is a useful tool to inform policy makers on critical areas in the Afar region. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Land Cover Change in Northern Botswana: The Influence of Climate, Fire, and Elephants on Semi-Arid Savanna Woodlands
Land 2017, 6(4), 73; doi:10.3390/land6040073
Received: 28 July 2017 / Revised: 18 October 2017 / Accepted: 20 October 2017 / Published: 25 October 2017
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Abstract
Complex couplings and feedback among climate, fire, and herbivory drive short- and long-term patterns of land cover change (LCC) in savanna ecosystems. However, understanding of spatial and temporal LCC patterns in these environments is limited, particularly for semi-arid regions transitional between arid and
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Complex couplings and feedback among climate, fire, and herbivory drive short- and long-term patterns of land cover change (LCC) in savanna ecosystems. However, understanding of spatial and temporal LCC patterns in these environments is limited, particularly for semi-arid regions transitional between arid and more mesic climates. Here, we use post-classification analysis of Landsat TM (1990), ETM+ (2003), and OLI (2013) satellite imagery to classify and assess net and gross LCC for the Chobe District, a 21,000 km2 area encompassing urban, peri-urban, rural, communally-managed (Chobe Enclave), and protected land (Chobe National Park, CNP, and six protected forest reserves). We then evaluate spatiotemporal patterns of LCC in relation to precipitation, fire detections (MCD14M, 2001–2013) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), and dry season elephant (Loxodonta africana) aerial survey data (2003, 2006, 2012, 2013). Woodland cover declined over the study period by 1514 km2 (16.2% of initial class total), accompanied by expansion of shrubland (1305 km2, 15.7%) and grassland (265 km2, 20.3%). Net LCC differed importantly in protected areas, with higher woodland losses observed in forest reserves compared to the CNP. Loss of woodland was also higher in communally-managed land for the study period, despite gains from 2003–2013. Gross (class) changes were characterized by extensive exchange between woodland and shrubland during both time steps, and a large expansion of shrubland into grassland and bare ground from 2003–2013. MODIS active fire detections were highly variable from year to year and among the different protected areas, ranging from 1.8 fires*year−1/km2 in the Chobe Forest Reserve to 7.1 fires*year−1/km2 in the Kasane Forest Reserve Extension. Clustering and timing of dry season fires suggests that ignitions were predominately from anthropogenic sources. Annual fire count was significantly related to total annual rainfall (p = 0.009, adj. R2 = 0.50), with a 41% increase in average fire occurrence in years when rainfall exceeded long-term mean annual precipitation (MAP). Loss of woodland was significantly associated with fire in locations experiencing 15 or more ignitions during the period 2001–2013 (p = 0.024). Although elephant-mediated damage is often cited as a major cause of woodland degradation in northern Botswana, we observed little evidence of unsustainable pressure on woodlands from growing elephant populations. Our data indicate broad-scale LCC processes in semi-arid savannas in Southern Africa are strongly coupled to environmental and anthropogenic forcings. Increased seasonal variability is likely to have important effects on the distribution of savanna plant communities due to climate-fire feedbacks. Long-term monitoring of LCC in these ecosystems is essential to improving land use planning and management strategies that protect biodiversity, as well as traditional cultures and livelihoods under future climate change scenarios for Southern Africa. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Mapping Land Cover and Estimating the Grassland Structure in a Priority Area of the Chihuahuan Desert
Land 2017, 6(4), 70; doi:10.3390/land6040070
Received: 5 September 2017 / Revised: 11 October 2017 / Accepted: 13 October 2017 / Published: 20 October 2017
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Abstract
A field characterization of the grassland vegetation structure, represented by the coverage of grass canopy (CGC) and the grass height, was carried out during three years (2009–2011) in a priority area for the conservation of grasslands of North America. Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM5)
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A field characterization of the grassland vegetation structure, represented by the coverage of grass canopy (CGC) and the grass height, was carried out during three years (2009–2011) in a priority area for the conservation of grasslands of North America. Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM5) images were selected and the information of reflectance was obtained based on the geographical location of each field-sampling site. Linear models, constructed with field and satellite data, with high coefficients of determination for CGC (R2 = 0.81, R2 = 0.81 and R2 = 0.72) and grass height (R2 = 0.82, R2 = 0.79 and R2 = 0.73) were obtained. The maps showed a good level of CGC (>25%) and grass height (>25 cm), except for the year 2009, which presented the lowest values of grass height in the area. According to the Kappa Index, a moderate concordance among the three CGC maps was presented (0.49–0.59). Conversely, weak and moderate concordances were found among the grass height maps (0.36–0.59). It was observed that areas with a high CGC do not necessarily correspond to areas with greater grass height values. Based on the data analyzed in this study, the grassland areas are highly dynamic, structurally heterogeneous and the spatial distribution of the variables does not show a definite pattern. From the information generated, it is possible to determine those areas that are the most important for monitoring to then establish effective strategies for the conservation of these grasslands and the protection of threatened migratory bird species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Vegetation in Drylands: Effects on Wind Flow and Aeolian Sediment Transport
Land 2017, 6(3), 64; doi:10.3390/land6030064
Received: 19 July 2017 / Revised: 14 September 2017 / Accepted: 14 September 2017 / Published: 18 September 2017
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Abstract
Drylands are characterised by patchy vegetation, erodible surfaces and erosive aeolian processes. Empirical and modelling studies have shown that vegetation elements provide drag on the overlying airflow, thus affecting wind velocity profiles and altering erosive dynamics on desert surfaces. However, these dynamics are
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Drylands are characterised by patchy vegetation, erodible surfaces and erosive aeolian processes. Empirical and modelling studies have shown that vegetation elements provide drag on the overlying airflow, thus affecting wind velocity profiles and altering erosive dynamics on desert surfaces. However, these dynamics are significantly complicated by a variety of factors, including turbulence, and vegetation porosity and pliability effects. This has resulted in some uncertainty about the effect of vegetation on sediment transport in drylands. Here, we review recent progress in our understanding of the effects of dryland vegetation on wind flow and aeolian sediment transport processes. In particular, wind transport models have played a key role in simplifying aeolian processes in partly vegetated landscapes, but a number of key uncertainties and challenges remain. We identify potential future avenues for research that would help to elucidate the roles of vegetation distribution, geometry and scale in shaping the entrainment, transport and redistribution of wind-blown material at multiple scales. Gaps in our collective knowledge must be addressed through a combination of rigorous field, wind tunnel and modelling experiments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Review

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Open AccessFeature PaperReview Central Asian ‘Characteristics’ on China’s New Silk Road: The Role of Landscape and the Politics of Infrastructure
Land 2017, 6(3), 55; doi:10.3390/land6030055
Received: 24 July 2017 / Revised: 14 August 2017 / Accepted: 18 August 2017 / Published: 23 August 2017
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Abstract
China’s $1 trillion One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure project has significant landscape, socio-economic, and political implications in recipient countries. To date, investigation has focused on Chinese motivation and plans rather than OBOR impact in host nations. This paper examines the programme from
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China’s $1 trillion One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure project has significant landscape, socio-economic, and political implications in recipient countries. To date, investigation has focused on Chinese motivation and plans rather than OBOR impact in host nations. This paper examines the programme from the perspective of two Central Asian states—Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan—that are at the heart of OBOR. We identify geographical factors that constrain infrastructure, recognise geopolitical contestation between Russia and China, address historical and cultural factors, and consider issues of institutional capacity and marginality that may be impediments to China’s initiative. The discussion then focuses on how OBOR may play out in Central Asian landscapes and suggests how to conceive and address the unprecedented transformation in the region’s built environment. Critical issues are that OBOR has not been grounded in the physical geography, practical understanding of OBOR’s impacts is missing, and the state-citizen-China nexus remains unexplored. As pivot nations, OBOR implementation in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will showcase the Chinese programme’s strengths and highlight its weaknesses. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Other

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Open AccessBrief Report Dust Storms from Degraded Drylands of Asia: Dynamics and Health Impacts
Land 2017, 6(4), 83; doi:10.3390/land6040083
Received: 16 October 2017 / Revised: 20 November 2017 / Accepted: 22 November 2017 / Published: 24 November 2017
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Abstract
Asian dust events are massive meteorological phenomena during which dust particles from Chinese and Mongolian deserts are blown into the atmosphere and carried by westerly winds across Northeast Asia. Recently, there has been steady increase in both the frequency and the severity of
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Asian dust events are massive meteorological phenomena during which dust particles from Chinese and Mongolian deserts are blown into the atmosphere and carried by westerly winds across Northeast Asia. Recently, there has been steady increase in both the frequency and the severity of Asian atmospheric dust events. Concern has been expressed regarding the potential health hazards in affected areas. The principal nature of the damage associated with Asian dust events differs between the emission (sandstorm) and downwind (air pollution) regions. In the emission region, the health impacts of dust storms are reflected in the high prevalence of respiratory diseases and severe subjective symptoms. Extreme dust storm events may cause a disaster to happen. In downwind regions such as Japan, analysis of Asian dust particles has shown the presence of ammonium ions, sulfate ions, nitrate ions, and heavy metal compounds that are considered not to originate from soil. Asian dust particles have been thought to adsorb anthropogenic atmospheric pollutants during transport. Therefore, Asian dust events coincide with increases in daily hospital admissions and clinical visits for allergic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and conjunctivitis. Although the effect of Asian dust on human health in each region is influenced by a variety of different mechanisms, human activities are partly responsible for such negative effects in many situations. We therefore need to address these environmental problems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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