Researchers using forests to stop desert from spreading

The desert, due in part to human activity and in part to a changing climate, will slowly spread, and might reach areas near the Mediterranean.

judean desert 298 88 (photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
judean desert 298 88
(photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
David Ben-Gurion had a vision to make the desert bloom. What Israel's first prime minister didn't know was that the desert, due in part to human activity and in part to a changing climate, would slowly spread. In Israel, deserts are expected to spread north. If nothing is done, areas near the Mediterranean might be categorized as desert in the future, according to Dr. Nir Atzmon of the Volcani Center in Beit Dagan, chairman of the scientific committee for "Forests to Combat Desertification." However, Atzmon and other leading researchers on Israel's deserts are hopeful that by establishing a belt of forests along the northern edge of the Negev, they can reverse desertification. "We believe we are doing quite a good job in this aspect," Atzmon said Sunday, adding that data from a monitoring station in the Yatir forest, Israel's largest, show it consumes as much carbon dioxide as a natural European forest, a critical function for preventing desert expansion. The 30-square-kilometer forest, established on the southern slopes of Mount Hebron in 1964 by the Jewish National Fund, continues to grow. Around 70 percent of Israel's forests are man-made. Yatir has also produced an improvement in local vegetation, and more animals now live in the forest, Atzmon said. "The idea is to try to stop the desert spreading north by active forestation - creating artificial forests," he said. Israel is a world leader in afforestation, said Atzmon, as well as in resource conservation activities. Representatives from arid regions around the world will share ideas and innovations at a four-day conference starting on Monday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem and learn from Israel's work in the Negev in water harvesting and desert agriculture. Israel is the only nation that has more forest cover than 100 years ago, according to the Jewish National Fund, which is sponsoring the conference. Israel is also where the revolutionary drip irrigation system was developed, which uses water efficiently by dripping water straight onto the roots of the plants.