Unraveling misunderstandings about desertification: The paradoxical case of the Tabernas-Sorbas basin in Southeast Spain

Jaime Martínez-Valderrama*, Emilio Guirado, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


From its origins, the concept of desertification has been controversial. The prevailing confusion between two desertification visions, one that considers it as the expansion of deserts and another that emphasizes its anthropogenic component, has been transferred to society. Here we illustrate misunderstandings about desertification using a very illustrative case from the Tabernas-Sorbas Basin (Almeria, Spain), where striking badlands that are often used as an image of desertification coexist with an intensive olive agriculture that is irreversibly deteriorating the only oasis in continental Europe (Los Molinos spring). The olive tree is a traditional Mediterranean dryland crop and until the 1950s only about 200 ha were irrigated in this area. However, the profitability of the crop has caused irrigation to expand to 4400 ha in the last two decades. The process of intensification has been reinforced giving way to super-intensive irrigation, which involves going from 210 to 1550 trees/ha, which in a few years already occupies more than 1500 ha. The effects on the water balance of the aquifer feeding these crops have been severe, and the flow of the Los Molinos spring has gone from more than 40 L/s for the period 1970-2000 to the current 7.28 L/s. Unraveling the mechanisms of land degradation and its main drivers are the first step to propose management actions to achieve a more sustainable use of resources and to combat desertification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number269
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors.


  • Desertification
  • Groundwater
  • Irrigation
  • Olive groves
  • Southern Europe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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