Arid environments are extremely diverse in terms of their land forms, soils, fauna, flora, water balances, and human activities. Because of this diversity, no practical definition of arid environments can be derived. However, the one binding element to all arid regions is aridity.
Aridity is usually expressed as a function of rainfall and temperature. A useful "representation" of aridity is the following climatic aridity index: p/ETP where
P = precipitation ETP = potential evapotranspiration, calculated by method of Penman, taking into account atmospheric humidity, solar radiation, and wind. Three arid zones can be delineated by this index: namely, hyper-arid, arid and semi-arid. Of the total land area of the world, the hyper-arid zone covers 4.2 percent, the arid zone 14.6 percent, and the semiarid zone 12.2 percent. Therefore, almost one-third of the total area of the world is arid land.
The hyper-arid zone (arid index 0.03) comprises dryland areas without vegetation, with the exception of a few scattered shrubs. True nomadic pastoralism is frequently practiced. Annual rainfall is low, rarely exceeding 100 millimeters. The rains are infrequent and irregular, sometimes with no rain during long periods of several years.
The arid zone (arid index 0.03-0.20) is characterized by pastoralism and no farming except with irrigation. For the most part, the native vegetation is sparse, being comprised of annual and perennial grasses and other herbaceous vegetation, and shrubs and small trees. There is high rainfall variability, with annual amounts ranging between 100 and 300 millimeters.
The semi-arid zone (arid index 0.20-0.50) can support rain-fed agriculture with more or less sustained levels of production. Sedentary livestock production also occurs. Native vegetation is represented by a variety of species, such as grasses and grass-like plants, fortes and half-shrubs, and shrubs and trees. Annual precipitation…