A longer, closer, look at land degradation

Z.G. Bai, D.L. Dent, L. Olsson, A. Tengberg, C. Tucker, G. Yengoh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleProfessional


Arresting land degradation, not to mention remediation, requires long-term investment. Budgetary constraints mean that we have to prioritise, so decision makers need know exactly where and how severe is the degradation, and they need early warning to act in good time. The first global assessment using actual measurements was based on 23 years of Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data at 8km resolution. Its aim was to identify black spots that should be investigated in the field – but hardly anybody did. The dataset now extends to 33 years, revealing both long-term trends and many reversals of trend. The areas hardest hit are sub-equatorial Africa, with outliers in the Ethiopian highlands and the Sahel; the Gran Chaco, Pampas and Patagonia; southeast Asia; the steppes from Moldova eastwards into Central Asia; the Russian far east and northeast China; and swaths of high-latitude forest. Since 2000, it has been possible to seamlessly scale up the coarse-resolution picture to 250m resolution using data from the Moderate- Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and to 30m resolution with Landsat. Now, thanks to commercial satellite data, we can zoom in, anywhere in the world, with 5m-resolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-9
JournalAgriculture for Development
Issue numberSpecial Issue on Soils
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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