The Great Green Wall: China’s Fight Against Desertification

Taklamakan Desert Dust 2023 Annotated

Image of the Taklamakan desert in China’s Tarim Basin acquired on November 11, 2023, by the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Flanked by mountain ranges on three sides, the basin in northwestern China sees frequent dust storms.

The Taklamakan desert, located in China’s Tarim Basin, is one of the driest, most barren expanses on Earth. Flanked by mountain ranges on three sides, it is parched by the resulting rain shadow. In fact, many parts of it receive between 10 and 40 millimeters (less than two inches) of rain per year.

Climate and Environmental Challenges

November through March is particularly dry, and passing weather systems often stir up walls of dust that race across the basin. The MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired the image at the top of this article on November 11, 2023, as a cold front passed through the region and blew dust toward the east. The storm dropped snow in the Tien Shan range to the north, visible amid the clouds in the top-left of the image.

Combatting Desertification

To combat the spread of deserts and reduce the number of dust storms, Chinese authorities are engaged in a tree-planting campaign to establish forests along the edges of the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts. The project, called the Three-North Shelter Belt or the Great Green Wall, began in 1978. Since then, tens of billions of trees have been planted; the aim is to plant around 100 billion by 2050.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Wanmei Liang, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.

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