The percentage of Earths land area stricken by serious drought more than doubled from the 1970s to the early 2000s, according to a new analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Widespread drying occurred over much of Europe and Asia, Canada, western and southern Africa, and eastern Australia. Rising global temperatures appear to be a major factor, says NCARs Aiguo Dai, lead author of the study.
Dai will present the new findings on January 12 at the American Meteorological Societys annual meeting in San Diego. The work also appears in the December issue of the Journal of Hydrometeorology in a paper also authored by NCARs Kevin Trenberth and Taotao Qian. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, NCARs primary sponsor.
Dai and colleagues found that the fraction of global land experiencing very dry conditions (defined as -3 or less on the Palmer Drought Severity Index) rose from about 10-15% in the early 1970s to about 30% by 2002. Almost half of that change is due to rising temperatures rather than decreases in rainfall or snowfall, according to Dai.
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