Desertification can be defined as the land degradation that occurs in dry lands. It can be caused by a number of factors that include: Climate change and human activities. It has been termed as one of the most significant global environmental problems. It has played a major role in human history and has greatly contributed to the collapse of several empires.
Desertification in Iceland
Desertification has been termed as a major climate issue in Iceland that has specifically affected the North Eastern part of the country. Iceland is a one hundred and three thousand square kilometers Island that is situated in North Atlantic Ocean between sixty three and sixty six latitudes.
The gulfs stream warms up the Island and its climate is considered to be humid cold temperate to low arctic. Its precipitation values lies between five hundred and two thousand millimeters in the low land areas. Volcanic eruptions are frequent in this region and the volcanic ash deposits are also wide spread. The Island is mountainous with low land areas along the coast line and river plains.
A large portion of Icelandic deserts was vegetated when Vikings settled in the area. The settlement of the Vikings led to a rapid population growth which led to the intensive use of the fragile Ecosystems. Altered vegetation composition that came up as a result of grazing, cutting and burning of wood lands and reduced vegetation cover, which is the formation of barren lands, are some of what included the Ecosystem degradation. This decrease in the vegetation cover promoted an increase in cryoturbation and solifluction processes which accelerates the rate of soil erosion.
This accelerated soil erosion began soon after the settlement and led to an increase in the population pressure, social unrest and poverty. Another factor that also accelerated the erosion was the climate of Iceland. It gradually became cooler during the eleventh century thus the Ecosystems had already become vulnerable due to this cooling trend. It led to vegetation that was less resistant thus making the Ecosystem more vulnerable to erosion than before.
The cooler climate led to the advancing of Glaciers, vegetation cover, which resulted in an increase in the production of tephra upon the rapid cooling of magma by glacial melt water during the eruptions. Vast outwash planes were developed by these glaciers and serve as the sources of sand that feed the sand drift areas. Large scale floods were caused by the eruptions under the glaciers.
The floods built vast sand deposits at the glacial plains and along the rivers. The eruptions that spread the volcanic ash on the surface became more damaging after the settlement as the vegetation was now less resistant to the stress of this extent. The more the land was used, the factors intensified thus causing almost total desertification in the North East Iceland.
For hundreds of years, people in Iceland used the natural resources beyond their capacity. A number of causes contributed to the desertification. They included: soil erosion, destruction of forests and other vegetation cover, over glazing by livestock and intense farming which also stripped the soil of its nutrients in a big manner.
These deeds destructed the Ecosystem and the climate of the region and have led to the poor state of the country’s land. The extremely active soil erosion in this nation is very negotiable on the landscape, and one of the main geologic and geomorphic features that shape the surface of the country.
It has had difficult number of effects to the people of Iceland. The first major effect is that it has made farming and building of gardens becomes more difficult. This has become a big problem and has post a major threat of a possible global food crisis in the country. It has also led to the land degradation which has been linked to global warming and the change in climate. When the soil is exploited, it in turn releases more green house gases than the soil that is rich in nutrients which leads to more desertification by causing droughts, more floods and other negative impacts on the climate.
Measures that have been taken in Iceland so as to help curb desertification
Iceland has been taking different measures unlike other many countries around the world that have experienced desertification. These measures have been serious so as to help them combat this problem for decades. In 1907 a law known as The Act on Forestry and Mitigation of Soil Erosion was passed with the aim of helping protect and rebuild woodlands and put an end to soil erosion in Iceland. There were also government agencies which were developed during that very year which would begin by working on rehabilitation, research and education.
There are a number of acts that can improve the state of soil in a big manner. These acts include: vegetation restoration, limiting or controlling the grazing of livestock, practicing farming responsibly and also creating protective green houses. Soil reclamation is also very important for protecting biological diversity, creating better soil for cultivation and securing access to food for every human being.
There are a number of organizations that are still working on the climate and the geology of the country. An organization known as the Farmers Association of Iceland which mainly consists of individual farmers who are well conversant with the deforestation issue is one of them that work with aim of combating these problems. Majority of these farmers have given up their livelihood, practiced farming on a much smaller piece of land and kept fewer livestock so as to achieve their aim. (Ravichandra, 1999)
There is also a government agency known as the Icelandic Forestry Association which is conducting research on the environment and whether the rehabilitation efforts are making any difference in helping in the reduction of desertification. Through the Regional Afforestation Project, this agency has been distributing grants for Afforestation. The Soil Conservation Service has mainly focused on the state of the soil.
They have also been conducting different initiatives which include: reclaiming and restoring land, educating people, promoting sustainable use of land and encouraging the community to involve itself with these different acts. They also co-operate with 25 percent of the farmers in Iceland.
The aim of the rehabilitation project is to help farmers revegetate degraded land, to stop soil erosion and to reclaim the land so that it can be re-used for sustainable agricultural use or other land uses. The soil conservation of Iceland also provides consultation and seeds, at the same time, they refund partially the fertilizer prices, whereas the farmers take care of seeding, fertilizing and the transport costs. There is also Agricultural University of Iceland which has been another important organization involved in solving this problem. It has greatly been involved with research, training and financial resources.
A program was put in place so as to access soil erosion in Iceland. It enabled soil erosion be surveyed everywhere in the country. The information is then stored in a readily accessible data base consisting of about eighteen thousand polygons with information about the type of erosion and its severity in addition to other digital land use related information. The Icelandic erosion assessment program classifies the different forms of erosion that can be identified in the region. It was started with the aim of providing guidance for sustainable use of the land. Iceland has become a nation that has worked the longest at reclaiming soil and preventing desertification, this is according to the Soil Conservation Service.
Plans for the future
The Soil Conservation Program for 2002-2013 which was approved by the Icelandic parliament on 30th April 2002. It is a twelve year plan which is one of its kind. It contains a framework that will help improve land and protect its quality. It is Iceland’s equivalents of a national action plan for combating desertification. It emphasizes in mitigation of land degradation and desertification, reclamation, sustainable land use, research, extension and raising awareness.
It also contains provisions that strengthen cooperation with NGOs, land users and other interests. The group strategy has increased revegetation efforts. There are measures that will be taken for soil conservation to be in line with the policy on development and nature conservation. The strategy also aims at fulfilling the international agreements on desertification and the conservation of nature that Iceland is party to.
Desertification is a complex environmental issue. The different projects that are being carried out are definitely helping solve the problem. However, it has become very difficult to determine exactly how successful they will be in the longer future, this is because of the fact that the land had already been degrading for many years when this restoration began. This means that slowing the destructive process and may be turning it around will thus take a very long time to achieve. The good thing is that the government, organization and the citizens of Iceland are working together so as to effect this dramatic changes in the use of land. Other affected areas in the globe can therefore emulate these measures so as to combat this problem.