Changing Deserts

Integrating People and their Environment

Edited by Lisa Mol and Troy Sternberg

Deserts – vast, empty places where time appears to stand still. The very word conjures images of endless seas of sand, blistering heat and a virtual absence of life. However, deserts encompass a large variety of landscapes and life beyond our stereotypes. As well as magnificent Saharan dunes under blazing sun, the desert concept encompasses the intensely cold winters of the Gobi, the snow-covered expanse of Antarctica and the rock-strewn drylands of Pakistan. Deserts are environments in perpetual flux and home to peoples as diverse as their surroundings, peoples who grapple with a broad spectrum of cultural, political and environmental issues as they wrest livelihoods from marginal lands.

The cultures, environments and histories of deserts, while fundamentally entangled, are rarely studied as part of a network. To bring different disciplines together, the 1st Oxford Interdisciplinary Deserts Conference in March 2010 brought together a wide range of researchers from backgrounds as varied as physics, history, archaeology anthropology, geology and geography. This volume draws on the diversity of papers presented to give an overview of current research in deserts and drylands. Readers are invited to explore the wide range of desert environments and peoples and the ever-evolving challenges they face.

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Lisa Mol is a Research Associate at the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University. She is a stone weathering geomorphologist and has conducted research on the weathering of Rock Art in South Africa. She currently researches the effect of armed warfare on fragile immovable heritage in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Troy Sternberg is a researcher at the School of Geography, Oxford University. His research focus is on natural hazards, environmental processes, the effectiveness of traditional nomadic strategies and the comparative ecological impact of livelihoods across the Asian steppe. In Mongolia his interest is in developing rural water access, quantifying drought and degradation and placing Mongolian pastoralism and the Gobi environment in a broader global context.


Troy Sternberg and Lisa Mol

1. Introduction. The Nature and Diversity of Deserts
Andrew Goudie

I. Changing Environment

2. Shedding Light on the Past: Records of Past Conditions in the Namib Desert and the Use of Luminescence Dating
Abi Stone

3. Soil Organic Carbon and Soil Respiration in Deserts: Examples from the Kalahari
Andrew D. Thomas, Stephen R. Hoon, Helen Mairs and Andrew J. Dougill

4. Hominin Evolutionary History in the Arabian Desert and the Thar Desert
Michael D. Petraglia, Huw Groucutt and James Blinkhorn

5. Can Carbon Finance Enhance Desert Afforestation and Serve Smallholders’ Needs?
Henri Rueff and Moshe Schwartz

II. Changing People

6. ‘Saharan Waterscapes’. Traditional Knowledge and Historical Depth of Water Management in the Akakus Mts. (SW Libya)
Savino di Lernia, Isabella Massamba N’Siala and Andrea Zerboni

7. Karez versus Tubewell Irrigation: Comparative Social Acceptability and Practicality of Sustainable Groundwater Development in Balochistan, Pakistan
Daanish Mustafa

8. Living off Uncertainty: the Intelligent Animal Production of Dryland Pastoralists
Saverio Krätli and Nikolaus Schareika

9. Authenticity in the desert landscapes of Oman: the Jiddat-il-Harasiis, Oman
Dawn Chatty

10. Pristine Wilderness, Participatory Archaeology and the Custodianship of Heritage in Mursiland
Marcus W.R. Brittain and Timothy A.R. Clack

III: Changing Problems

11. Conserving History in Changing Arid Environments: a Geomorphological Approach
Lisa Mol and Heather Viles

12. Water in the Desert: Applying Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Lessons for Climate Change in Arid Lands
Katherine Donovan and Ilan Kelman

13. Hazard Impact on Desert Environments
Troy Sternberg

14. Knowledge Systems Have Not Served the Drylands Well: Reflections on Stakeholder Interactions
Mike Mortimore

15. Human-Environment Interactions: the Invasion of Prosopis juliflora in the Drylands of North-east Ethiopia
Simone Rettberg and Detlef Müller-Mahn

16. Conclusions

David Thomas


30th March 2012, 350pp.
ISBN 978-1-874267-69-0 (HB) £70