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A clarion call for aeolian research to engage with global land degradation and climate change

This editorial represents a clarion call for the aeolian research community to provide increased scientific input to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and an invitation to apply for ISAR funding to organize a working group to support this engagement.

This journal, Aeolian Research, represents the work of the community in the international society of the same name (ISAR) and is the forum of the International Conference on Aeolian Research (ICAR). The presentation of research at ICAR III (Zzyzx, California, USA, 1994) acted as the catalyst forthe emergence of ISAR and the journal. In the early days of ICAR, most work presented was divided between studies of aeolian transport me-chanisms, and coastal and continental dune dynamics. 

Renewed agility to engage with wind erosion research. The forthcoming IPCC special report (planned for September 2019) will assess literature relevant to climate change, desertification, land de-gradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, especially since the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

The report outline is for seven chapters including (Ch2) climate-land interactions, (Ch6) Interlinkages between desertification, land degradation, food security and greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes: Synergies, trade-offs and Integrated Response Options, and three sections of particular relevance:

  • Desertification feedbacks to climate, including sand and dust storms.
  • Observed and projected impacts of desertification on natural and human systems in a changing climate. This could include the role of aerosol sand dust, impacts on ecosystem services (e.g. water, soil and soil carbon and biodiversity) and impacts on socio-ecological systems (e.g. impacts on vulnerable communities, poverty, food security, livelihoods, and migration).
  • Linkages and feedbacks between land degradation and climate change, including extremes (e.g. floods and droughts), erosion, and their effects on ecosystems and livelihoods.

It appears from the list of authors and reviewers of the Special Report for the IPCC that our aeolian research community has not yet engaged with this opportunity.

Similarly, for the Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms (UNEP, 2016) only a few of our community contributed or acted asreviewers. Nevertheless, in the short-term (1–2 years) opportunities remain to carefully review, summarise, or describe the significance of winderosion and dust emission for Earth’s systems and particularly land degradation.

In the medium-term (3–5 years), opportunities exist for research with support from funding agencies, to demonstrate the impact of wind erosion and dust emission on land degradation and particularly with a focus on the simultaneous influences of climate change (Webb et al., 2017).

The systematic nature of the review processes virtually ensures that input provided will be considered carefully by the authors of the UN reports.

Another opportunity is through the UNCCD. In 2015, its Conference of the Parties (COP) decided to establish a Science-Policy Interface (SPI) to facilitate a two-way science-policy dialogue and ensure the delivery of policy-relevant information, knowledge and advice on desertification/land degradation and drought (DLDD; Decision 23/COP.11).

In other decisions, the COP decided to focus attention on SDG target 15, which includes the intention to “combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and (15.3) strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world”by 2030 (UNGA, 2015). The UNCCD defines land degradation neutrality (LDN) as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems”(decision 3/COP.12, UNCCD, 2015a). Three indicators representing the key attributes of LDN have been adopted by the UNCCD: physical land cover, land productivity and SOC (Cowie et al., 2018). These indicators are intentionally complementary, representing different features of the system. Land cover is a highly responsive measure, representing land use dynamics, that reveals change in vegetative cover such as through land conversion and resulting habitat fragmentation. Land productivity (net primary productivity) captures relatively fast changes in ecosystem function. The SOC reflects slower changes resulting from the net effects of biomass growth and disturbance/removal and is an indicator of resilience. 

"A clarion call for aeolian research to engage with global land degradation and climate change" (PDF Download ). Available from Researchgate