An Oxford University professor has blamed 4x4 vehicles for whipping up dust storms in the world's deserts, which, in turn cause climate changes, coral reef destruction and respiratory problems.

An Oxford University professor has blamed 4x4 vehicles for whipping up dust storms in the world's deserts, which, in turn cause climate changes, coral reef destruction and respiratory problems.


Large SUVs are frequently attacked by environmentalists for the vehicles’ less-than-economical fuel consumption and high level of carbon dioxide emissions. The mayoral administrations of both London and Paris have considered banning them from city centres as they take up too much road space and are disproportionately involved in incidents with pedestrians and cyclists.


Professor Andrew Goudie recently said 4x4s had largely replaced the camel as the main method of transport, and they destroy a thin crust of lichen and stones which protect deserts from winds. Along with over-grazing and cutting down of the few trees there are in regions such as the Sahara, the loss of this layer has contributed to a huge rise in dust storms: in the Sahara alone, these have increased tenfold in 50 years, and worldwide, the increase is accelerating, he said.


An estimated 2-3 billion tonnes of dust or sand is blown from deserts each year, transported as far away as Greenland and America, causing red dust storms in areas such as the Alps and “red rain” which can contain salt from dried-up lakes, pesticides and herbicides and harmful microbes. Evidence has been found to suggest that when the dust falls in the sea, it can cause melting of ice as it forms a layer that absorbs the sun's heat, or it can smother coral reefs. Professor Goudie also says that airborne dust can reflect sunlight back into space, contribute to holding the earth's heat in, and also help to fertilise plankton in oceans.


Professor Goudie said: "If you take almost any desert now, people go all over it in four-wheel drives... the desert surfaces have been stable for thousands of years because they usually have a thin layer of lichen or algae, or gravel from which the fine sand has blown away. Once these surfaces are breached you get down to the fine sand again, which can be picked up by the wind."


He added that some areas of Africa were under threat of complete migration as they become uninhabitable, and even pointed to the trend for dune buggy-racing and off-roading in America's southern deserts as a possible factor in a return to the appalling dust storms and agricultural failures of the 1930s.