Home | News | Websites
Title: Deserts and Desert Environments
Author(s): Julie Laity
Date of Publication: 2008 Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Pages: ISBN:
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Sen Secondary







Content: 1 – Introduction - defining the desert system; 2 - Deserts of the world; 3 - The climatic framework; 4 - The hydrologic framework; 5 - Lake systems - past and present; 6 - Weathering processes and hillslope systems; 7 - Desert soils and geomorphic surfaces; 8 - Water as a geomorphic agent; 9 - Aeolian processes; 10 - Landforms of aeolian erosion and desert dust; 11 - Plant communities and their geomorphic impacts; 12 - animal communities; 13 - Desertification and the human dimension.

Review: There are a number of interesting trends in ecological texts not all of which are helpful to beginners. There are specialised texts of course and those that attempt more interdisciplinary analyses but sometimes, when you just need a simple, straightforward analysis of one ecosystem there can be little there. As deserts and desertification are becoming more important, the need for this background text becomes more evident. This author has sought to provide such a book.

The opening chapter outlines the concept of desert and the basic locations along with some of the regional and local complexities we are going to explore in later chapters. Chapter two provides us with a basic geographical overview of all the major global desert regions. This covers size, location, basic climatic parameters and something of the key ecological components. Deserts are more than just 'dry areas' and chapter three aims to investigate the more complex side of climate. Starting with the surface boundary layer and covering vapour, radiation, albedo and precipitation (in ironically more detail than other areas!) and wind. To these more local factors are added the regional ones e.g. ENSO which is a major factor with the Saharan desert. Chapter four moves on to hydrology and examines in some detail the complex movement of water in the air, on the surface and in sub-surface conditions. There's work on runoff, an important feature given the high variability of precipitation. Fog can be a key component and its impact is also noted. Finally there's the idea of cloud seeding and a brief study of water management in the Tigris-Euphrates area. When sufficient moisture does build up there's often a lack of channels to carry it from the area meaning that lakes are formed to cope with surface excess. These lakes, pans and playas have significant value for both modern climates and past reconstructions. After examining water systems, chapter six has moved on to weathering and erosion processes highlighting the specific aspects found only in deserts and the impact this has on landscapes. Soil is the next topic. We might associate deserts with a specific colour, usually red, but this can hide considerable variations in both chemical and physical properties. Soil can influence growth patterns in vegetation often controlling the 'flush' of plants found after rapid precipitation events. Finally, chapter 8 looks at the way in which water can shape geomorphological events in terms of slopes, valleys, channels and products such as alluvium. If water is a key component, then wind processes must also be seen as crucial. Chapter 9 and 10 look at a wide range of aeolian processes from wind velocities and their effects to landforms of both erosion and deposition. Deserts are also ecological communities and chapters 11 and 12 dealing, respectively, with plants and animals highlight some of the unique characteristics of desert habitats. Finally, people get a mention. Desertification is a key environmental issue and some of the key aspects are discussed here. An extensive bibliography rounds out the text.

This is a very valuable text. At a time when a lot of ecological and environmental work focusses on a specific process it's less common to find holistic discussions of one area. This is a pity because it's the way that most beginners get to understand their area and see how the various processes interact. From this, they can then move on to consider the process alone because they have the grounding in the known. In this text the author has systematically covered the key ideas of desert geography and ecology. Chapters are chosen to discuss key topics familiar to the beginner and this adds to the ease of use. However, the extensive bibliography shows that there is also much for the more advanced user. Overall, an excellent guide and one sadly all too rare.





To top