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BGU is Uncovering The Deserts’ Role in Climate Change

BGU is Uncovering The Deserts’ Role in Climate Change

July 2, 2024

Desert & Water Research, Sustainability & Climate Change

The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research

The Jerusalem Post – Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Dr. Elad Levintal and his research team are making significant strides in understanding the intricate connections between terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric environments.

One of the singular aspects of Levintal’s research lies in its focus on the desert, an understudied area in the context of climate change and the water cycle. The Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, which is part of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research on the Sde Boker campus of BGU, however, is ideally situated to conduct this critical research.

“We’re focusing on the movement of greenhouse gases between the soil and the atmosphere,” Levintal explains, “and it’s a bit sad to say, but most of the universities with resources are not next to deserts, so there are fewer studies regarding deserts.” This gap in research is largely due to the geographical limitations faced by many institutions involved in climate studies, which are often far removed from desert environments.

Leveraging their proximity to desert ecosystems, Levintal’s team can explore how these arid regions contribute to and are affected by climate change, providing invaluable data that other institutions might struggle to obtain.“We have the advantage,” he notes, “and we have the resources.”

Deserts cover more than 40% of the Earth’s land surface and are key components of our planet’s ecosystem. They significantly influence atmospheric processes that affect global weather patterns and climate while also acting as carbon sinks and sources, with complex interactions between soil, vegetation, and the atmosphere. Understanding CO2 emissions from deserts is essential for accurate climate modeling and for developing effective mitigation strategies. “Deserts might be a source for CO2 emissions,” Levintal stresses, “and we cannot neglect them.”

Conducting studies at various sites across Israel and internationally, the team employs a variety of sensors and DIY electronic boards to gather critical data. These sensors measure environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and CO2 levels, providing comprehensive insights into how different factors, like wind speed, affect air circulation in soil or the emissions from abandoned water wells.

Their innovative approach has led to fruitful collaborations with numerous prestigious institutions. The Dead Sea and Arava Science Center partnership allows the team to study desert environments and their specific climatic challenges. Their collaboration with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem enriches their research through interdisciplinary approaches, combining expertise in environmental science, engineering, and technology. Internationally, they work with universities in Germany, the US, and Ecuador, broadening the impact and scope of their research.

The research he is conducting with his team at the Sde Boker campus of BGU leverages their geographical proximity to desert environments. This allows them to conduct in-depth, on-site studies that provide critical data on how deserts contribute to and are affected by climate change.

In their groundbreaking work, the team has faced significant challenges since Oct. 7. The geopolitical climate has made finding and maintaining international collaborations more difficult. Undeterred, these obstacles only highlight the importance of their work and the resilience of the team as they continue to push forward in their research endeavors.

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