Mapping dryness

As Spain heats up – "the average surface temperature in Spain has risen 2.7 degrees compared with about 1.4 degrees globally since 1880," the New York Times reports – we are seeing the "Africanization" of its climate.
The Sahara, you could say, is spreading north.

[Image: Monica Gumm for The International Herald Tribune].

Previously lush hills are now barren of plantlife; soil is turning to dust; streams have dried up and farms are dying.
But golf courses and casinos are still being built, and hotels, so far, have kept their pools full.
"Grass on golf courses or surrounding villas is sometimes labeled a 'crop,'" we read in the New York Times, "making owners eligible for water that would not be allocated to keep leisure space green. Foreign investors plant a few trees and call their vacation homes 'farms' so they are eligible for irrigation water."
It's the hydrology of leisure.
"No one knows if it goes to a swimming pool," the head of a local water board says.
On a purely bureaucratic level, this is genius: reclassifying your backyard as an agricultural zone so that you can get water rations from the government.
But will this really be the last gasp of southern European civilization, as the dunes roll in, leaving unfinished resorts surrounded by dead olive tree orchards, burying half-drunk British tourists alive beneath surprise evening dust storms? Is well-watered leisure really the only option available to us here – or will a new kind of strategic xeriscaping save us from endemic thirst?
More practically, all of this brings to mind an ongoing interest of mine in a future landscape design project: mapping zones of desertification in southern Europe.
You go around for the summer with a landscape architecture class, a box full of GPS devices, and some graph paper, producing a new cartography of aridity. France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal. Whoever finds the northernmost point of desert – some strange and growing patch of dust outside Berlin – wins something.
But the minute any territory anywhere in Europe is officially named part of the Sahara Desert will be a very surreal moment, indeed.
After all, the Sahara "was once lush and populated" – and so was Europe, future caravans camped out around drained swimming pools will someday say.

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Anonymous alfonso said...

I think that mapping job is a great idea. Not exclusively affecting Spain. Not only get to map the phenomenon worldwide and considering the bureacratic gaps concerning it, but also trying to learn for the future about nomad cultures and ways of adapting to surviving in a desertical climate. From all of those wise civilizations that have made it for long.
Last, let me make a non-serious recall on 70´s Sergio Leone´s spaguetti westerns filmed in Almeria. I just expect people don´t think of Spain that way, hum.

June 05, 2008 7:57 AM  
Anonymous exurban escape said...

That mapping project sounds wonderful.

June 05, 2008 8:32 AM  
Blogger About the author: said...

Hi folks,

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Best Wishes,

Andrew

Fascinating…. Secession movements are an American instinct, and Blechman sees one afoot in the migration of young, well-off retirees to the land of golf and sunshine…. If you are squeamish at the thought of people over 55 socializing, having sex, drinking, smoking pot, line dancing and saying they are happy with their lives, avert your eyes now…. Blechman disappears down the rabbit hole.
— The New York Times Sunday Book Review


After reading Leisureville, the first thing I have to say is: Listen up.
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June 05, 2008 9:55 PM  
Anonymous exurban escape said...

Hey Andrew, your book sounds really interesting, but I have to say I dislike your (or your employees') marketing plan of leaving advertisements on peoples' blogs.

I'm not trying to play moderator here, I'm just saying it makes me exponentially less likely to spend money on your book.

June 06, 2008 8:27 AM  
Blogger erin said...

there is a bit of research available from UN and associated agencies on this topic, probably elsewhere also.

http://www.fao.org/desertification/default.asp?lang=en

nice piece, great blog!

June 06, 2008 11:34 PM  
Blogger Mike Laursen said...

I'm not a global warming denialist, but I don't think the term should be thrown around in relation to every story of local climate change. Especially since we're in the middle of a few years of short-term cooling trend within the larger, predicted warming trend. Sounds like this has a lot to do with water management, illegal wells, and one bad summer of drought in 2005.

June 08, 2008 1:48 AM  
Blogger Addictive Picasso said...

As part of your mapping project, it might be fun to think about what the future geomorphological monuments might be, like the Sphinx or mud-lions seen across the current Sahara. And the fossils?

An imprint in the sediment of seating of Marseilles football stadium? A lock of Bridget Bardot's hair? Or the calcified remains of a rubbish tip in Naples.

? :D

June 12, 2008 1:19 PM  

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