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Thar Desert Case Study

Thar Desert Case Study

When you think about hot deserts, what's the first image that likely comes to mind? Perhaps it's the Dubai in the United Arab Emirates or the pyramids in Egypt. Beyond these two iconic points of reference, you probably conceptualize hot deserts as expansive areas of sand and nothing more. However, as you will learn in this explanation, other hot desert areas in the world have provided development opportunities.

Thar Desert case study map

The Thar Desert, also called the Great Indian Desert is located in the northwestern region of the Indian Subcontinent on the border between India and Pakistan- 85% is located in India and 15% in Pakistan. In India, most of the Thar Desert is located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.

Thar Desert case study location of Thar Desert in IndiaFig. 1 - location of the Thar Desert in India (coloured in the darker shade of orange)

Thar Desert case study facts

This is India's only desert (though there are smaller deserts within the Thar desert, such as the Great Rann of Kutch.) The Thar covers an area of about 77,000 square miles (200,000 square kilometres) and is the 17th largest desert in the world and the 9th largest hot desert. Let's take a look at some more Thar desert facts.

Thar Desert climate

In the summer, the Thar Desert experiences very high temperatures during the day, but the nights are cool. Daytime temperatures can get up to 50oC, while at night, temperatures average between 24-26oC. The hottest months are June and July. By contrast, in the winter season, the days are warm, but the nights are freezing. During this time the nighttime temperatures can be as low as 4-5oC. January and December are the coldest months.

The Thar Desert gets very little rainfall- less than 10 inches/ 250mm annually. Rain is also very seasonal, with most of it occurring in December and January.

Thar Desert vegetation

The vegetation includes both perennial and ephemeral plants.

A perennial plant survives for several years.

An ephemeral plant has a short life span.

Perennial plants have adapted to extremely low water conditions in the desert. They are usually short, prickly shrubs such as cacti or babool. In oases, where there is more water and the soil is fertile date palms can be found. Ephemerals bloom and bear fruits during the short rains and then lie dormant until the next time it rains. Ephemerals include bekario.

Thar Desert case study example of perennial vegetation in the Thar Desert StudySmarterFig. 2 - example of perennial vegetation in the Thar Desert

Thar Desert population

Despite its extreme climate, the Thar Desert has a total population of about 16.6 million people. It is also the most densely populated hot desert in the world, with a population density of 83 persons per square kilometre. The majority of the population here is involved in animal husbandry.

Compare this with the Sahara Desert, the world's largest hot desert, which has a population density of less than 1 person per square kilometre.

Thar Desert case study opportunities

Regardless of the conditions, there have been a number of development opportunities, which have caused the population to grow continuously. Let's look at some of these opportunities.

Mining in the Thar Desert

The state of Rajasthan is mineral-rich, and the Thar Desert is no exception. The area is mined for a variety of minerals. These included gypsum for use as plaster in construction; feldspar, which is used for ceramics; phosphorite, used for making fertilizer and kaolin, which is used as a whitener when making paper. In addition, the limestone found here is the main source of India's steel industry. It is also used for cement. Marble mined in the Thar Desert is also used in construction.

Energy in the Thar Desert

The Thar Desert is a source of both renewable and non-renewable energy resources. For renewable energy, both solar and wind power are cultivated here. On the outskirts of the city of Jaisalmer, 75 turbines generate 60 MW of energy (enough to power thousands of homes.) The Thar Desert is perfect for wind farms because there are large expanses of open space, strong reliable winds and few people. Similarly, in Bhaleri, solar energy is used to power the desalination plant. There is the potential for further expansion of solar generation.

The desalination plant converts salt water to potable (drinkable) water.

Thar Desert case study wind turbines near Jaisalmer, Thar Desert StudySmarterFig. 3 - wind turbines near Jaisalmer, Thar Desert

Farming in the Thar Desert

Both subsistence and commercial arable farming are practised. The majority of farming is subsistence farming done by farmers to feed their families. If there is any extra, it is sold at the local markets. Subsistence agriculture here includes animal rearing.

Commercial arable farming is also present in the Thar Desert. The development of this type of farming was facilitated by the Indira Gandhi Canal, which allowed for the irrigation of 1351 square miles (3500 square km) of land. Consequently, wheat and cotton are widely grown in the Thar Desert. The canal also provides drinking water.

The Indira Gandhi Canal was built in 1958 and is 404 miles/ 650km long, making it India's longest canal. It was initially called the Rajasthan Canal but was renamed in November 1984 after the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The canal begins in the Harike Barragenear to the confluence of the Satluj and Beas Rivers in the state of Punjab and flows south-westerly into the Thar Desert.

Thar Desert case study a section of Indira Gandhi canal in Rajasthan StudySmarterFig. 4 - a section of the Indira Gandhi canal in Rajasthan

Tourism in the Thar Desert

Tourism is important for income and job creation in the Thar Desert. Over the years, it has become a popular tourist destination. Activities here include safaris and camel rides, amongst others. Tourists also frequent the Thar Desert National Park which is home to a variety of exotic animals such as the desert fox, the Bengal fox and the great Indian bustard. Furthermore, Jaisalmer, the largest settlement in the Thar Desert, is known as the "Golden City". People visit it to experience true Rajasthani culture as well as for its famous dunes and fort, which was built in 1156.

Thar Desert case study Jaisalmer Fort overlooking the city of Jaisalmer, Thar Desert StudySmarterFig. 5 - Jaisalmer Fort overlooking the city of Jaisalmer, Thar Desert

Thar Desert case study challenges

With opportunities often come challenges and the Thar Desert is no different. Read on to learn about some of the challenges in the Thar Desert.

Water supply

Being a desert, it must not be surprising that water is an issue. Besides the fact that rainfall is very low, evaporation rates are also very high, thereby limiting water supplies. Water is essential to the activities that create income in the Thar Desert. Hence, water needs to be sustainably managed. There are parts of the desert which have experienced waterlogging due to over-irrigation. This is problematic because when the extra water evaporates, it causes the salination of that area which makes it difficult for crop-growing. There are also sections which have experienced a fall in the water table due to the increasing water demand.

Extreme temperatures

As stated previously, the temperature can reach up to 50oC in the summer. This makes it difficult for miners, farmers and tour guides to work outside in the extreme heat. In addition, the heat contributes to high rates of evaporation which causes water shortages. Climate change will increase these effects.

Inaccessibility

Recall that the Thar Desert is 77,000 square miles (200,000 square kilometres) in size. Large portions of it are inaccessible because of a poor road network and challenging environmental conditions. The road infrastructure that is present is often impacted by the desert's conditions. For instance, outside of Jaisalmer, the asphalt melts and sand often blows over the roads. Lack of access increases inequality in society.

Thar Desert case study Thar Desert road being covered by sand StudySmarterFig. 6 - Thar Desert road being covered by sand.

Thar Desert case study desertification

Desertification is happening in the Thar Desert. The desert is expanding rapidly towards the east because of the migration of people, the changes in rainfall patterns and the spread of sand dunes. Climate change is also a contributing factor. Over-exploitation of resources has resulted in the removal of vegetation cover which causes land degradation. The loss of the Aravali Hills due to unregulated mining is also expected to contribute to the eastward movement, as the hills act as a natural buffer between the desert and the more fertile land.

The impacts and implications of desertification are far-reaching. The sand covers the fertile soil and thereby affects food production. Desertification also causes water sources to dry up. As a result, populations will move to find more hospitable areas in which to live. This movement can cause the spread of diseases. Lack of water can also increase diseases because of poor hygiene. Respiratory illnesses caused by the dust in new areas also occur. Finally, with desertification, there comes the threat of an increase in malnutrition.

To learn more about this process, read our explanation on Desertification.

Thar Desert Case Study - Key takeaways

  • The Thar Desert is located mainly in the state of Rajasthan in northwest India.
  • It is the most densely populated hot desert in the world.
  • Despite its arid conditions, a number of development opportunities have been created in the Thar desert, such as mining, energy exploitation, farming and tourism.
  • Along with opportunities have come challenges in the form of low water supply, extreme heat and inaccessibility.
  • Desertification continues to happen in the Thar Desert, which is causing its eastward expansion.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - location of the Thar desert in India (coloured in the darker shade of orange) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:India_Thar_locator_map.svg) by Planemad (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Planemad) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2 - example of perennial vegetation in the Thar Desert (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:D%C3%A9sert_du_Thar-V%C3%A9g%C3%A9tation.jpg) by Ji-Elle (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ji-Elle) Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 3 - wind turbines near Jaisalmer, Thar Desert (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Turbines-thar-india.jpg) by nomo/michael hoefner (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Nomo) Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 4 - a section of the Indira Gandhi Canal in Rajasthan (https://wordpress.org/openverse/image/db07a98c-45f9-4e95-a54d-781833f798ae) by public.resource.org (https://www.flickr.com/photos/8212496@N06) Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  5. Fig. 6 - Thar Desert road being covered by sand (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Desert_road,_Thar_desert_hari.jpg) by Hriprsd (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Hriprsd&action=edit&redlink=1) Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Thar Desert Case Study

The three main challenges to development in the Thar desert are water supply, extreme temperatures and inaccessibility. 

The opportunities in the Thar desert are mining, energy exploitation, farming and tourism. 

The Thar desert is a good location for a wind farmer because there is an abundance of open space, strong winds and few people. 

The Thar desert is located on the border between India and Pakistan, but mostly in the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India. 

Desertification in the Thar Desert is caused by the over-exploitation of resources, migration of people, changes in rainfall, the spread of sand dunces and climate change. 

Final Thar Desert Case Study Quiz

Question

In which Indian state is the Thar Desert located?

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Answer

Punjab.

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Question

About how much rainfall does the Thar Desert receive annually?

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Answer

500mm.

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Question

What is the population of the Thar Desert?

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Answer

15 million.

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Question

True or False:

Limestone is mined in the Thar Desert.

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Answer

True.

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Question

For what is the feldspar mined in the Thar Desert used?

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Answer

Fertilizer.

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Question

Which type of renewable energy can be found in the Thar Desert? Select ALL that apply.

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Answer

Geothermal.

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Question

Both _____ and _____ farming can be found in the Thar Desert.

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Answer

Subsistence and Commercial Arable.

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Question

Over-irrigation in the Thar Desert causes _____. 

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Answer

Deforestation.

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Question

True or False:

Poor access has caused a decrease in inequality in the Thar Desert.

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Answer

False.

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Question

Desertification is causing the Thar Desert to extend towards the _____.

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Answer

North.

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