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How Green Is My Desert?

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© Heeb / AGE Fotostock

Al Ain oasis, Abu Dhabi


Dry lands--places where rainfall is scarce and evaporation is high--have been crucial incubators of human culture. But deserts are precarious places for cities, and many of the ancient dry land settlements--Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Sumer in Iraq--are now only ruins visited by archaeologists and tourists.

Today, new cities are appearing in arid regions around the world. In aerial photos these desert cities may look like mirages . . . and perhaps they are. The price of watering our deserts can include destruction of the fragile desert ecosystem, groundwater depletion, and lowered rivers. Can we keep that up indefinitely?

The World's Deserts

Deserts, today cover about 25 percent of Earth's surface. More than 500 million people live in deserts and dry lands.

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."
 --Attributed to Mark Twain

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Saudi Arabia Desert


Farm, United Arab Emirates
 Population 4,444,011 (2007)
 Annual rainfall 120mm (5 inches)

Scottsdale, Arizona
 Population 230,000 (2006)
 Average yearly rainfall 210 mm (8 inches)

Las Vegas, Nevada
 Population 1,820,232 (2006)
 Average yearly rainfall 120mm (5 inches)

Mesa County, Colorado
 Population 134,189 (2006)
 Average yearly rainfall 203 mm (8 inches)

Farm, Saudi Arabia
 Population 27,601,038 (2007)
 Average yearly rainfall 100mm (4 inches)

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© VisionsofAmerica / Joe / AGE Fotostock

Tucson, Arizona


Dubai
 Population 1.4 million (2006)
 Annual rainfall 100-200 (4-8 inches)

Tucson, Arizona
 Population 518,956 (2006)
 Average yearly rainfall 300mm (12 inches)

Al Ain oasis, Abu Dhabi
 Population 348,000 (2003)
 Average yearly rainfall 361mm (14 inches)

Palm Springs, California
 Population 47,806 (2006)
 Average yearly rainfall 150mm (6 inches)

American Museum of Natural History

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