Nearly 230,000 tonnes of plastic is dumped into the Mediterranean Sea every year, a figure which could more than double by 2040 unless “ambitious” steps are taken, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said Tuesday.
Egypt, Italy and Turkey are the countries that release the most plastic into the sea, mainly due to large coastal populations and huge amounts of “mismanaged waste,” an IUCN report found.
But on a per capita basis Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia have the highest levels of plastic waste leakage into the Mediterranean.
The report, called “Mare Plasticum: The Mediterranean”, estimates that over one million tonnes of plastic have already accumulated in the Mediterranean Sea.
“An estimated 229,000 tonnes of plastic –- equivalent to over 500 shipping containers –- are leaking into the Mediterranean Sea every year,” said the report, blaming “mismanaged waste” for 94 percent of the total plastic leakage.
Under a “business as usual” scenario, this figure will reach 500,000 tonnes per year by 2040, which is why “ambitious interventions beyond current commitments will be required to reduce the flow of plastic into the sea”.
Minna Epps, the director of the IUCN’s marine programme, warned that “plastic pollution can cause long-term damage to terrestrial and marine ecosystems and biodiversity.”
“Marine animals can get entangled or swallow plastic waste, and ultimately end up dying from exhaustion and starvation,” he added.
Over 50,000 tonnes of plastic leakage into the Mediterranean could be avoided each year if waste management was improved in the top 100 contributing cities alone, the report said.
A ban on plastic bags in the Mediterranean Sea basin region would further reduce plastic leakage into the sea by another 50,000 tonnes per year.
“Governments, private sector, research institutions and other industries and consumers need to work collaboratively to redesign processes and supply chains, invest in innovation and adopt sustainable consumption patterns and improved waste management practices to close the plastic tap,” said Antonio Troya, head of the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation which is based in Malaga, southern Spain.
The Ethiopian-Egyptian Water War Has Begun by Ayenat Mersie | September 22, 2020
It took only a few weeks to plan the cyberattack—and a few more to abandon the world of ethical hacking for the less noble sort. But they would do anything for the Nile, the four young Egyptians agreed.
With that, the group calling themselves the Cyber_Horus Group in late June hacked more than a dozen Ethiopian government sites, replacing each page with their own creation: an image of a skeleton pharaoh, clutching a scythe in one hand and a scimitar in the other. “If the river’s level drops, let all the Pharaoh’s soldiers hurry,” warned a message underneath. “Prepare the Ethiopian people for the wrath of the Pharaohs.
“There is more power than weapons,” one of the hackers, who asked not to be identified by name, told Foreign Policy. Also, it was a pretty easy job, the hacker added.
A few weeks later and thousands of miles away, a 21-year-old Ethiopian named Liz applied red lipstick and donned a black T-shirt and jeans. She positioned her phone on her desk and started her own kind of online influence campaign: a TikTok video. She danced to a popular Egyptian song underneath the message, “Distracting the Egyptians while we fill the dam.”
“There’s no other country that can stop us,” said Liz, who has more than 70,000 followers on the app and whose taunting video was met with praise and threats. “It’s our right.”
Rarely have young people been so passionate about an infrastructure project. But the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be Africa’s largest, is more than just a piece of infrastructure. It has become a nationalistic rallying cry for both Ethiopia and Egypt—two countries scrambling to define their nationhood after years of domestic upheaval. Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind, one with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.
Construction of the dam, which was first dreamed up in the 1960s, started in April 2011, weeks after the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Even then, the online tensions between Ethiopians and Egyptians were palpable in the comments sections of seemingly every article about the dam. The discord soon even spilled over into the world of reviews: Today, there are several entries for the GERD on Google Maps, most earning middling 3 to 4 stars ratings, buoyed by five-star ratings with feedback such as, “One of the great architectural dam in the World!” but weighed down by one-star complaints including, “You’re gonna make us die from thirst.
”Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind.
Tensions escalated this year, as the U.S.-brokered negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt unraveled and new talks mediated by the African Union began. Two issues are at the core: what will happen during a drought and what will happen during a dispute. In terms of the former, Egypt wants the pace of the reservoir filling to be dependent on rains, to ensure a minimum flow if there’s a drought; Ethiopia says such a guarantee is unacceptable. And in terms of disputes, Egypt and Sudan want a resolution mechanism with binding results, but Ethiopia doesn’t.
Construction of the dam was completed in July, and the filling of its reservoir started soon after amid heavy rains but before an agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan was signed. The U.S. government, a top source of aid for both Ethiopia and Egypt, said in August that it would halt some aid to Ethiopia over what it saw as a unilateral move to progress with the dam.
At the beginning of the year, when Ethiopia’s water minister was asked in a press conference who would control the dam once complete, he looked surprised before responding with a curt, “It’s my dam.” Ethiopians across social media, including Liz, adopted his response as a mantra and hashtag, urging their government to move forward with the project. Some have gone further, saying that the dam should be filled regardless of downstream countries’ positions: One Twitter user wrote, for example, “There is no need of negotiations with crafty Egypt.”
Egyptians online retorted with pleas using the hashtag #Nile4All and threats such as “I proudly volunteer to join my Egyptian army to demolish Ethiopia and its dam,” using hashtags such as #EgyptNileRights.
Social media users from the two countries frequently collide on the Internet, but seem to do so most often on Adel el-Adawy’s Twitter page: As a member of a prominent Egyptian political dynasty, a professor at the American University in Cairo, and the most visible disseminator of the Egyptian perspective on the dam in English, he has amassed a significant following. Adawy, whose pinned tweet is a picture of himself shaking hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, posts frequently about the Nile and Ethiopian affairs, especially when things get sticky.
At the end of June, when Hachalu Hundessa, a popular activist-singer of Ethiopia’s historically marginalized Oromo ethnic group, was killed, the country descended into chaos. Hundreds were killed as protests were either met with state violence or descended into mob violence. Adawy posted frequently, underscoring the fractious situation but also fomenting alarmism, such as when he posted that frustrated Ethiopians were privately asking Egypt to overthrow the Ethiopian government. Soon after one such post, he was bombarded, he said.
“I got around 500 or 600 friend requests on Facebook by Ethiopian accounts. I got messages with insults.… I got people sending me certain links, of course I didn’t open any of them,” he said. Many of the accounts seemed hollow, with little information contained in them. “Getting within an hour or two 600 friend requests is not normal.”
Even on Twitter, some of the engagement on Adawy’s posts comes from suspicious accounts; they lack followers, were recently created, have number-filled usernames, or only post about the dam. But it’s still unclear the extent of coordination or who might be the coordinator.
“It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
It’s possible that the engagement is coming from concerned Ethiopians at home and abroad, at the encouragement but not the behest of Ethiopian officials. “I have friends who joined Twitter just for the sake of this. It’s highly emotional and nationalistic,” said Endalkachew Chala, an Ethiopian communications professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.
The Ethiopian government does broadly engage in “computational propaganda,” according to a 2019 report from the Oxford Internet Institute. Agencies there use human-run social media accounts to spread pro-government propaganda, attack the opposition, and troll users. The same goes for the Egyptian government.
Though there is no evidence yet that either government was involved in coordinated social media attacks or in the Cyber_Horus hack, the activity from the past few months still represents a milestone. It has marked the first known time these kinds of digital tools have been used by people from one African country against people from another, said Gilbert Nyandeje, founder and CEO of the Africa Cyber Defense Forum. “It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
At their core, all the online attacks, hacks, and discord are driven by the same force: nationalism. For both countries—Egypt since the 2011 fall of Mubarak and Ethiopia since the 2012 death of strongman Prime Minister Meles Zenawi—national identity has been in flux.
Egypt’s Sisi has anchored his legitimacy on a nationalistic platform. At its core has been an emphasis on national security, rounded out by megaprojects such as the Suez Canal expansion and the construction of a new administrative capital city. But at the core of Egyptian identity is the Nile, so bolstering nationalism means defending the Nile, too. And officials have encouraged this outlook: One sleekly produced video shared on Facebook by the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs warned, “More than 40 million Egyptians are facing the threat of drought and thirst.… The cause of water shortage is Ethiopia building a dam five times bigger than its needs.
”At their core, all the online attacks, hacks, and discord are driven by the same force: nationalism.
It has been a show of vulnerability rare in Arab power politics. But the strategy has helped garner global sympathy for Egypt, even as its Nile claims are framed by Ethiopia as the result of unjust colonial-era agreements in which Egypt’s interests were represented by British colonizers.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been unable to manage competing nationalist sentiments growing among different ethnic groups. Abiy came to power in 2018 thanks to a wave of protests that started among young Oromos. Following decades of authoritarianism and the country’s domination by the Tigrayan minority ethnic group, Abiy promised to build bridges spanning ethnic fault lines, cultivate an inclusive nationwide identity, and open up the political space. But even at the beginning of this year, slow progress on fulfilling these promises was encouraging criticism, including from Oromos who said he was abandoning the cause.
Still, the dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally. “We do have a lot of divisions—ideological, ethnic, tribal, religious,” said Chala, the Ethiopian professor. “But even though we have these bitter divisions, Ethiopians have overwhelmingly supported this Nile dam especially on social media.”
Even some of Abiy’s most outspoken critics, such as prominent Oromo activist and media mogul Jawar Mohammed, posted frequently about Ethiopia’s right to fill the dam. “Egypt & its backers should know Ethiopia will start filling #GERD in July, agreement or no agreement,” Jawar tweeted in June. Everything changed in the following days, however, after the popular singer Hachalu was killed and Jawar was arrested following accusations of inciting ethnic tensions. While other Oromo activists have echoed Jawar’s support of the dam, they have warned against losing sight of the Oromo struggle and what they regard as Abiy’s failures.
The dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally.
Ethiopian officials, meanwhile, continue to encourage Ethiopians to post about the dam online and often use the #ItsMyDam hashtag in their own social media posts. This use of social media to rally around the dam has also meant that Ethiopia’s massive global diaspora can get involved, without having to worry about frequent in-country Internet shutdowns that otherwise curtail online movements there.
But nationalism creates problems. The thousands of Ethiopian refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants living in Egypt are now facing greater pressure and harassment from Egyptian citizens and authorities since the dam tensions started to heat up, said Hamdy al-Azazy, an Egyptian migrant rights activist currently in Germany. And in Ethiopia, it has meant that any domestic criticism of the dam from an environmentalist point of view—namely, that it could disrupt ecosystems and biodiversity, even within Ethiopia—is met with derision.
And for both countries, surging nationalist sentiment means that it’s harder for officials to agree to, and for the public to accept, compromise. Ethiopia, Egypt, and the quieter Sudan have actually already agreed on most items when it comes to the dam; the main sticking points now are related to dispute resolution, drought contingency plans, and future upstream projects. And yet, much of the online rhetoric remains maximalist, even rejecting items that have already been unanimously decided—such as the existence of an Ethiopian Nile dam in any form—raising the possibility that the online tensions and attacks may not subside anytime soon.
As for the hackers at Cyber_Horus, the group is already planning another attack on Ethiopia. When asked if they would reconsider if an agreement between the two countries was reached, one of the hackers said simply, “Maybe.”Ayenat Mersie is a journalist based in Nairobi.
By Clive Lipchin and Hussein Solomon• 21 August 2020
The planet is heating up fast. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East and Africa where the impacts on water security and food security can exacerbate the conflict dynamics already extant in both regions.
Between 80 and 100 million of the MENA’s (Middle East and North Africa) citizens will suffer from water stress by 2025. According to researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute who had assembled data from 1986 to 2005 and compiled over two dozen models, even under the best-case scenarios, temperatures are set to rise by 4°C across the MENA region by 2050. In 2016, the MENA region recorded its highest temperature of 54°C at Mitribah in Kuwait and Basra in Iraq saw temperatures soar to 53.9°C.
As in the Middle East, temperature increases in Africa are expected to far exceed the global norms. Hotter nights and recurrent heatwaves are expected to be the norm for those residing within 15 degrees of the Equator. In West Africa, little precipitation combined with increased evaporation has resulted in lower crop yields. In southern Africa, too, a similar phenomenon is at play with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa looking into the abyss of an arid future. Drought and desertification in the Sahel has resulted in the United Nations labelling it as one of the most environmentally degraded regions on the planet.
This looming environmental catastrophe is made worse by massive population growth and urbanisation. In the MENA region there was a 400% growth in urbanisation between 1970 and 2010 and the pace of urbanisation between 2010 and 2050 is expected to be 200%. To put it into perspective, while 56% of the total population of 357 million MENA citizens lived in cities in 2010, by 2050, 68% of the region’s 646 million residents will live in cities.
A similar dynamic is occurring on the African continent which is expected to double its 1.1 billion population by 2050. Urbanisation is at play here too. By 2025, there will be 100 African cities with a population of more than one million inhabitants.
Given the myriad failures of governments across Africa and the Middle East to appropriately plan for this new normal, tensions have intensified within states and across regions around access to scarce water resources.
Many analysts have noted how the Syrian civil war has its roots in the environment – specifically the severe 2006-2010 drought. This compelled 1.5 million farmers to leave their land and migrate to the city. In the process, not only was food insecurity increased, but also greater political friction and social instability. In a similar fashion, the various insurgencies and recruitment into terrorist organisations in the Sahel has its roots in access to water resources and arable land.
At a regional level, it is access to water, where one starkly witnesses the political and geo-strategic dimension of environmental challenges. This is specifically true under transboundary conditions where water resources cross political borders. The transboundary nature of water makes its management inherently a political one. As the climate crisis exacerbates both Africa’s and the MENA’s water insecurity political dialogue on water is essential.
Israel and South Africa are both arid countries that are challenged by water scarcity in the face of growing demand. Most of the water for both countries is transboundary as well. South Africa’s water vulnerability is best known internationally during the 2018 water crisis in Cape Town, but the country has always been in one way or another water insecure.
Israel too faces many water challenges, specifically in the transboundary arena in terms of the continuing Israel-Palestinian conflict. The two countries can nevertheless learn from one another to improve their resilience to water vulnerability under climate change and political uncertainty.
Israel can learn from South Africa on how to innovatively solve for what many believe are intractable political complexities and South Africa can gain from Israel’s adoption of non-conventional water supplies such as desalination and wastewater reuse.
Now more than ever, there is a need for far-sighted leadership who could provide the necessary strategic thinking to mitigate the impact of climate change on scarce water resources. Inclusive and effective water governance at a domestic level is imperative while international protocols for shared river basins need to be completed at a regional level. Leveraging technology to ensure maximum use of existing water resources is also imperative.
Water is a fundamental human right and the most basic of natural resources. Through dialogue and creative thinking the myriad challenges brought on by water scarcity can be resolved. DM
Hussein Solomon is a Senior Professor: Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State. Clive Lipchin is the Director, Centre for Transboundary Water at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. On 3 September 2020 they will be hosting a joint webinar on Transboundary Water management in Southern Africa and the Middle East with experts in both regions. To register for the seminar,click here.
Salt storms are an emerging threat for millions of people in north-western Iran, thanks to the catastrophe of Lake Urmia. Once one of the world’s largest salt lakes, and still the country’s largest lake, Urmia is now barely a tenth of its former size.
As the waters recede, extensive salt marshes are left exposed to the wind. These storms are getting saltier and are now happening more often – even in the cold and rainy seasons of the year. As more drying uncovers more salt marshes, things will only get worse.
Salt storms pose a direct threat to the respiratory health and eyesight of at least 4 million people living in both rural and urban areas around Lake Urmia. Increasing soil salinity reduces the yield of agricultural and orchard crops grown around the lake, while the lake has shrunk so much that boating is no longer possible, resulting in a loss of tourism. https://youtu.be/H7euP07yEA0
This dramatic decline is down to human activity. Over the past three decades, Iran has followed a succession of five-year economic development plans, part of which involved providing large government loans for the agricultural sector to expand and switch from being primarily rain-fed to irrigated. To provide the necessary water for the farms, as well as for growing domestic and industrial use, more than 50 dams were constructed on rivers that drain much of north-western Iran and flow into the lake.
While these dams siphoned off the water that once fed the lake, the drying process was intensified by climate change. The rate of rainfall has reduced in recent decades and the Urmia basin has experienced several multi-year droughts.
All this has left a massively shrunken lake and a host of associated economic, social and health impacts. Yet what’s happening with Lake Urmia is just one example of water-environmental problems emerging right across Iran.
Iran is getting warmer and drier
In a recent journal article, we examined how both climate change and human activity had affected hydrological changes in Iran in recent decades. The country has 30 main river basins, and we gathered three decades of key hydro-climatic data for each, including surface temperature, precipitation, how much water was stored underground in soil and rock, surface runoff (the amount of excess rainwater that cannot be absorbed by the soil), and measures of evaporation and transpiration from plants.
We then calculated the average values of each of these variables over two 15-year periods, 1986-2001 and 2002-2016, and compared the two. This allowed us to see what was changing in each of these basins and by how much.
Our work showed that Iran’s main river basins have got warmer but are receiving less precipitation, are storing less water underground, and seeing less runoff.
Some river basins where precipitation and runoff decreased still saw an increase in evapotranspiration (the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration). This may seem odd at first, as less rainwater surely means there is less water to evaporate or for plants to transpire. Lake Urmia, for instance, is an endorheic basin, which means nothing flows out of it and all water that flows in eventually evaporates (this is why the lake is salty). But why would evapotranspiration have actually increased, even as the basin is fed by less water?
This is actually an indicator of human activity. First, all those dams generally increase the surface area of the body of water, compared to the natural flow before the dam was built. Artificial lakes and reservoirs, therefore, leave more water exposed to air and direct sunlight, thus increasing evaporation.
But it’s also down to farming. As more crops are grown, more water is transpired by plants – and more water is needed to grow those plants. To add water where needed, farmers have turned to groundwater and large-scale water transfer engineering projects.
This use of water to maintain and expand human activities is unsustainable and has serious environmental and socio-economic consequences, particularly in this dry part of the world, as seen by changes to Lake Urmia. Policymakers need to mitigate the adverse hydrological changes and associated socio-economic, environmental and health impacts, and move towards something more sustainable.
An article Posted by Ankush on July 31, 2020, is on the Point Of Use Water Purifier (POU) Market In MENA (Middle East & North Africa). It is as witnessed by a CAGR of 7.6% by 2020 per Future Market Insights (FMI) Estimates. All despite these years the most severe threat facing the MENA, there exists a market of Point Of Use Water Purifier (POU).
Future Market Insights report examines the ‘POU Water Purifier Market’ in Middle East and North Africa region for the period 2014–2020. The primary objective of the report is to offer key insights about water purifier market in MENA to current market participants or new entrant’s participants across the value chain.
Report includes study of the three key technologies of water purification i.e. Reverse Osmosis (RO),
Ultra Violet (UV) and Media filtration (Gravity). Report offers in depth analysis of market size, forecast and the key trends followed in all three segments.
The report starts with an overview of parent market i.e. water treatment industry in MENA and the part POU water purifier industry plays in it. Report also offer useful insights about global POU water purifier market and the role MENA market is posed to play.
Next section of the report includes FMI analysis of the key trends, drivers and restraints from supply side, demand side and economic perspective, which are influencing the target market. Impact analysis of key growth drivers and restraints based on weighted average model included in the report better equips and arms client with crystal clear decision making insights.
As highlighted before, water purifiers are based Reverse Osmosis (RO), Ultra Violet (UV) and media based filtration technology. Reverse osmosis is estimated to contribute noteworthy proportion of revenue in MENA water purifiers market. However, in the price sensitive regions, media based segment is expected to witness robust growth during the forecast period.
The next section highlights POU water purifier market by region. It provides market outlook for 2014- 2020 and sets forecast within context of water purifier market, including the three technologies to build out a complete picture at regional level. This study discusses the key regional trends contributing to the growth of the water purifier market in MENA as well as analyses the degree at which key drivers are influencing water purifiers market in each region of MENA. For this report, regions assessed are Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Algeria and rest of MENA.
To calculate the revenue generated from POU water purifiers, the report considered total volume sales of water purifier along with the average selling price, and also the revenue generated from water purifier segment of major players in the market. When forecasting market, the starting point is sizing the current market, which forms the basis for how market will develop in future. Given the characteristics of market, we triangulated the outcome of three different type of analysis based on supply side, consumer spending, and economic envelope. However, forecasting the market in terms of various water purifier technologies and regions is more matter of quantifying expectations and identify opportunities rather than rationalizing them after the forecast has been completed.
Also another key feature of report is analysis of the three key technologies of water purifier and regions in terms of absolute $ opportunity. This is traditionally overlooked when analyst forecasts the market. But absolute $ opportunity is critical in assessing the level of opportunity that a provider can look to achieve, as well as to identify potential resources from both the sales and delivery perspective.
Further to understand key growth segments in terms of technology and region FMI developed the MENA water purifier market attractiveness index. The resulting index should help providers identify real market opportunities.
In the final section of report, MENA water purifier market competitive landscape is included to provide report audience with dashboard view based on categories of provider in value chain, presence in water purifier market and their key differentiators. Key categories of providers covered in the report are manufacturers and major distributors. This section is primarily designed to provide client with an objective and detailed comparative assessment of key providers specific to market segment in the POU water purifier value chain. Report audiences gain segment and function specific vendor insight to identify and evaluate key competitors based on in depth assessment and capabilities and success in the POU water purifier market place. Detailed profiles of the providers are also included as scope of the study to evaluate their long term and short term strategies, key offerings and recent developments in the market. Key competitors covered are Eureka Forbes, PureIt, Strauss Water, Panasonic, LG and others.
In this study, we analyze the MENA Water Purifier Market during 2012-2020. We focus on:
Market size and forecast, 2012-2020
Key drivers and developments in POU Water Purifier Market
Key Trends and Developments of MENA Water Purifier Market technologies such as RO,UV and Media
Key Drivers and developments in particular regions such as KSA, UAE, Turkey ,Israel, Egypt, Algeria and Others
UNSW MEDIAproduced this summary of their on Tiny plants crucial for sustaining dwindling water supplies: a global analysis on 31 July 2020. Could the wisdom of such an endeavour be replicated onto the whole or part of the MENA region?
The image above is of A diverse biocrust community in western New South Wales. Photo: David Eldridge
Miniscule plants growing on desert soils can help drylands retain water and reduce erosion, UNSW researchers have found.
Biocrusts are a rich assortment of mosses, lichens, cyanobacteria, and microscopic organisms such as bacteria and fungi that live on the surface of dryland soils. Drylands, collectively, are the world’s largest biome.
“Biocrusts are critically important because they fix large amounts of nitrogen and carbon, stabilise surface soils, and provide a home for soil organisms,” said lead author Professor David Eldridge from UNSW Science.
“But we still have a poor understanding of just how biocrusts influence hydrological cycles in global drylands.
“Accounting for biocrusts and their hydrological impacts can give us a more accurate picture of the impacts of climate change on dryland ecosystems and improve our capacity to manage those effects,” Prof. Eldridge said.
Exploring more than 100 scientific papers
For the study, the team assembled and then analysed the largest ever global database of evidence on the effects of biocrusts on water movement, storage and erosion, focussing on drylands.
“Our emphasis was on dryland soils because biocrusts are often the dominant surface covering on these soils, particularly during dry times,” Prof. Eldridge said.
A huge increase in the number of publications on biocrusts over the past decade had prompted the group to critically assess the links between water capture and storage, and landscape stability in drylands.
Co-author Dr Samantha Travers from UNSW Science helped retrieve and analyse data from more than 100 scientific papers published over the past 30 years.
“The global literature on biocrust effects on hydrology has often been conflicting, preventing us from making broadscale recommendations on how to manage them to manage water,” Dr Travers said.
Importantly, the researchers showed that globally, the presence of biocrusts on the soil surface reduced water erosion by an average of 68 per cent.
“Cyanobacteria in the crusts secrete organic gels and polysaccharides that help to bind small soil particles into stable surfaces. Mosses in the crusts also trapped water and sediment on the soil surface, preventing the removal of soil particles,” Dr Travers said.
Although biocrusts reduced the infiltration of water into the soil, they tended to increase water storage in the uppermost layers.
“This upper layer is where most of the nutrients and microbes are found – it is a critical zone for plant production and stability in dryland soils,” Prof. Eldridge said.
“More water in the upper layers means greater productivity and stability.”
Prof. Eldridge said we now had a better understanding of how biocrusts affect water relations in drylands.
“However, the effects depend on factors such as the type of crust and whether it is intact or disturbed,” he said.
Three decades of biocrust research
Prof. Eldridge and his team have been studying the role of biocrusts on Australia’s soils for more than 30 years.
The focus of the team’s research is on drylands because they occupy almost half of Earth’s land surface and support almost 40 per cent of the global human population.
“Many people in drylands rely on pastoralism for their livelihoods, so the capture and use of water is critically important in these water-limited environments,” Prof. Eldridge said.
“Anything that alters the hydrological balance in drylands has the potential therefore to affect millions of people, hence the importance of these tiny surface communities.”
He said a major problem for sustainable management of drylands was overgrazing by livestock.
“Trampling by sheep and cattle breaks up the crust, destabilising the soil surface and leading to increased water erosion – effects that are supported by our global analyses,” he said.
“Preventing overgrazing by livestock is critical if we are to prevent the loss of biocrusts, but until recently, the magnitude of the effects have not been known.
“The results of this work will be incorporated into global water balance and soil loss models so that managers and governments have a better understanding of the implications of losing biocrusts on the world’s dwindling water supplies,” Prof. Eldridge said.
The study, published in Global Change Biology today, was a collaborative effort between UNSW Sydney, and scientists from the United States, Spain, Germany, Mexico and China.
The work is part of a larger global study, supported by the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis to predict the impacts of climate change on biological crust communities.
The research team is now examining how global land-use changes affect biocrust communities and developing best management practices to restore biocrusts as we move towards a hotter and drier world.
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