Page 18 - The 'X' Chronciles Newspaper - June / July 2018 Edition
P. 18

18                    There’s So Much Sand in the Sahara

               WHY THERE’S SO

             MUCH SAND IN THE


          In the vast Sahara, seas of sand ripple for miles.
          They rise up in wavelike dunes that can crest at
          over a thousand feet.  With temperatures that
          have been known to reach 136 degrees F (58
          degrees C), the desolate Sahara covers most of
          North  Africa and over a third of the  African
          continent. It’s the world’s largest desert, home to
          over three million square miles of dust, stone,
          and sand.


          In the sweltering Sahara, a cool vision of waving
          grass and shining lakes can seem like a mirage
          (or the first signs of heat exhaustion), but it’s a
          glimpse into Earth’s astounding past. Hard to
          believe, but this hostile ocean of sand was once
          an earthly Eden. Fish swam in ancient lakes;
          giraffes, elephants, and gazelles roamed grassy
          savannas; and hippos wallowed in ponds and
                 And people had a great time, too.
                                                         Africa were hotter.                             decimated not just by lumbermen but also by
          Prehistoric rock paintings show ancient
                                                                 Hotter? So what’s the problem?  Well,   herds of goats that chomped on the bark and
          Saharans feasting and drinking and - it’s true! -
                                                         ironically, hot summers meant water for North   devoured young saplings.  And guess what?
          swimming.  They had steady jobs, first as
                                                         Africa and lots of it. When the African landmass  Even today, widespread exploitation of those
          fishermen and hunters, later as shepherds,
                                                         is n=much more hotter than the Atlantic Ocean,  same cedars - goats or not - has contributed to
          cattlemen, and farmers. That was in the old days,
                                                         the temperature contrast increases the number of  increasing deforestation, which leads to soil
          around 5,500 years ago. But 2,000 or so years  summer monsoons that rain on the Sahara. As     erosion, which leads to sand...and lots of it.
          later (just a wink of the geological eye), the
                                                         the Earth incrementally wobbled into its current
          lakes had dried up, the vegetarian and animals
                                                         axis, they summers grew cooler, the  African    SAND MARCHES ON
          were gone, and farmers were forced to leave a
                                                         monsoons grew weaker, and the cool moist        Today, there’s controversy over whether human
          land where nothing could grow. So, what
                                                         Sahara became hot, dry, and eventually sandy.   activity is causing the Sahara’s size to increase.
                                                                                                         Critics of the idea argue that satellite photos who
                                                         NUDE LANDS ARE BAD LANDS                        the desert fluctuating in size, but not steadily
          TRUE GRIT
                                                         As rainfall decreased, plants died. The death of  growing larger. Nevertheless, people living on
          Over thousands of years, as rainfall lessened and
                                                         vegetarian in turn increased the drought. Plants  the edge of the great desert, in places like Niger,
          temperatures rose, what little rain there was
                                                         hold moisture in the soil and summer sun        Chad and Mali, complain that the Sahara has
          eroded the soil and dissolved it, releasing grains
                                                         evaporates the moisture into the atmosphere,    steadily encroached on their precious farmland.
          of silica sand. Wind slammed sand into rocks,
                                                         where it converted to rain. Barren land with no
          wearing those rocks away, which created more
                                                         plants or trees holds less moisture, so the     THE GREENING OF THE SAHARA
          sand. Hot days and freezing nights subjected
                                                         surrounding atmosphere produces less rain.      What about turning back the clock? Can more
          rock outcroppings to extreme temperature
                                                         Plands absorb sunlight, whereas bare land and   rain and rivers and even lakes return to the
          changes.  This daily expansion and contraction  bright sandy deserts reflect the sun’s heat, which
          eventually shattered mineral crystals in the rocks                                             Sahara? Can we help nature re-create an Eden in
                                                         leads to fewer clouds and less rain.            North Africa? Scientists believe that replanting
          so that the cliffs broke into boulders, boulders
                                                                 This drought sysle picked up momentum   trees and vegetation, as well as conserving
          shattered into pebbles, and pebbles crumbled
                                                         until finally the desert took over fertile ground.  groundwater and runoff, could reverse the
          into sand.
                                                         And remember the rock paintings showing the     desert’s drought cycle. Some theorists even
                 But what caused the climate to change in
                                                         farmers, shepherds, and cattle drivers? It may be  propose that global warming (if it increases the
          the first place? Why did  drought transform the
                                                         that those folks helped the drought cycle along,  heat of the  African land in summer) will
          Sahara from a wet wonderland to a desert
                                                         turning their heavenly little Eden into the hot  eventually increase the amount of monsoons.
          badland? Explanations involve everything from
                                                         hell of the Sahara.                             With the help of humans, the desert just might
          the tilt of the Earth to the appetite of the humble
                                                                                                         bloom again, but since a reversed drought cycle
                                                         WHO’S TO BLAME?                                 could take a couple of centuries to work, don’t
                                                         Some scientists believe that ancient man was the  hop off your camel yet. []
          A      VENUS          AND        JUPITER
                                                         victim of the climate change, but others think he
                                                         was responsible for it and that poor faming
          Up in space and completely unaware of giraffes,  practices, as well as over grazing and
          hippos, or swimming Saharan,. Jupiter’s gravity  deforestation, contributed to drought, barren
          combined with Venus’s gravity to influence the  land, and the eventual creation of deserts. In
          tilt of the Earth’s axis. Nine thousand years ago,  fact, a famous scientific study suggests that
          when the Sahara was blooming, Jupiter and      deforestation along the southern coast of West
          Venue kept the Earth’s tilt at 24.14 degrees,  Africa could cause a complete collapse of the
          compared to the 23.45 degrees it is today. The  Sahara’s dwindling monsoon season.
          perihelion (when the Earth is closest to the Sun)
          occurred at the end of July - now it occurs in
                                                         BETTER GET YOUR COAT
          early January. This means that a very long time
                                                         Even in ancient times the loss of forests were a
          ago, the Northern Hemisphere basked in much
                                                         problem.. A famous example involved the great
          more summer sunlight, and the summers in
                                                         cedars of Lebanon, which were nearly
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