Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists find climate change is major factor in drought’s growing reach

12.01.2005


The percentage of Earth’s 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) in Boulder, Colo. 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 NCAR scientist Aiguo Dai.



Dai will present the new findings on Weds., Jan. 12th at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) annual meeting in San Diego, Calif. The work also appeared in a paper published in the December issue of the Journal of Hydrometeorology; co-authors are NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth and Taotao Qian.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR’s primary sponsor. "The results reconfirm the complexity of the climate system," says Cliff Jacobs, program director in NSF’s division of atmospheric sciences. "We need to continue to develop a wide variety of research tools to understand these changes."


Dai and colleagues found that the fraction of global land experiencing very dry conditions rose from about 10-15 percent in the early 1970s to about 30 percent by 2002. Almost half of that change is due to rising temperatures rather than decreases in rainfall or snowfall, according to Dai. "These results point to increased risk of droughts as human activity contributes to global warming," says Dai.

Even as drought has expanded across Earth’s land areas, the amount of water vapor in the air has increased over the past few decades. Average global precipitation has also risen slightly. However, as Dai notes, "surface air temperatures over global land areas have increased sharply since the 1970s." The large warming increases the tendency for moisture to evaporate from land areas. Together, the overall area experiencing either very dry or very wet conditions could occupy a greater fraction of Earth’s land areas in a warmer world, Dai says. "Droughts and floods are extreme climate events that are likely to change more rapidly than the average climate," says Dai. "Because they are among the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect a very large number of people each year, it is important to monitor them and perhaps predict their variability."

To see how soil moisture has evolved over the last few decades, Dai and colleagues produced a unique global-scale analysis using the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which for decades has been the most widely used yardstick of U.S. drought. The index is a measure of near-surface moisture conditions and is correlated with soil moisture content.

Since the Palmer index is not routinely calculated in most of the world, Dai and colleagues used long-term records of temperature and precipitation from a variety of sources to derive the index for the period 1870–2002. The results were consistent with those from a historical simulation of global land surface conditions, produced by a comprehensive computer model developed by scientists at NCAR, NASA, Georgia University of Technology, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Arizona.

By factoring out rainfall and snowfall, Dai and colleagues estimated how much of the global trend in soil moisture was due solely to rising temperatures through the extra evaporation they produce. "The warming-induced drying has occurred over most land areas since the 1970s," says Dai, "with the largest effects in northern mid- and high latitudes." In contrast, rainfall deficits alone were the main factor behind expansion of dry soils in Africa’s Sahel and East Asia. These are regions where El Niño, a more frequent visitor since the 1970s, tends to inhibit precipitation.

Though most of the Northern Hemisphere has shown a drying trend in recent decades, the United States has bucked that trend, becoming wetter overall during the past 50 years, says Dai. The trend is especially notable between the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River. Other parts of the world showing a moistening trend include Argentina and parts of western Australia. These trends are related more to increased precipitation than to temperature, says Dai. "Global climate models predict increased drying over most land areas during their warm season, as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase," says Dai. "Our analyses suggest that this drying may have already begun."

At the AMS conference, Trenberth will also present results on Tues., Jan. 11th from a workshop on drought. Among the questions addressed: What is the full range of past drought variability, as revealed by paleoclimate data? What role might droughts associated with abrupt climate change play? Are droughts likely to become more frequent, longer, or more extensive as we move into a future with global warming?

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Filling the gap: High-latitude volcanic eruptions also have global impact
20.11.2017 | Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

nachricht Antarctic landscape insights keep ice loss forecasts on the radar
20.11.2017 | University of Edinburgh

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Previous evidence of water on mars now identified as grainflows

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope completes final cryogenic testing

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New catalyst controls activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond

21.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>