Deserts and Arid Lands



The exponential growth of global population and often concomitant degradation of the environment has forced human expansion into the more hostile and less well-known terrains of arid lands and deserts. Drought in the African Sahel, with recent wholesale movement of tribes seeking survival, has focused interest in such regions. However, geologic and geomorphic knowledge of deserts has expanded slowly until the last few decades. For instance, the arid cycle of erosion, as conceived by William Morse Davis (now deceased; formerly, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.), with modifications by W. Penck (now deceased; formerly, Leipzig University, Leipzig, German Democratic Republic), and L. C. King (University of Natal and Durban, South Africa), has dominated desert geomorphological deductions until recently. Since World War II and the verification of plate tectonics, the knowledge of arid lands has increased dramatically, especially in synoptic mapping from remote sensing data and space photography, which transcends political boundaries, thanks to the open skies policy of the U.S. space pioneers.