World’s Largest Desert Sahara Is Expanding

Posted: Apr 1 2018, 9:44am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 1 2018, 10:20am CDT, in Latest Science News


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World’s Largest Desert Sahara is Expanding
Credit: Texas A&M University

Sahara Desert has expanded by about 10 percent since 1920, says study

A new research has found that the world's largest desert Sahara is getting even bigger. The desert has grown by 10 percent since 1920 and this expansion is mainly driven by climate change which is affecting our environment in lots of ways.

Sahara is the world’s largest subtropical desert that is roughly the size of contiguous United States. Like other hot and dry regions in the world, Sahara experiences low rainfall – less than 4 inches of rain per year on average. For the study, researchers used the annual rainfall data gathered across Africa from 1920 to 2013 and assessed century-scale changes to the boundaries of Sahara Desert. They found that the Sahara Desert has expanded significantly over the past century.

By looking at seasonal trends over the same time period, researchers also found that the most notable expansion of the Sahara occurred in summer and resulted in a nearly 16 percent increase in the desert's average area, with the most notable differences observed along the Sahara's northern and southern boundaries.

“Deserts generally form in the subtropics because of the Hadley circulation, through which air rises at the equator and descends in the subtropics," said co-author Sumant Nigam, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland. "Climate change is likely to widen the Hadley circulation, causing northward advance of the subtropical deserts. The southward creep of the Sahara, however, suggests that additional mechanisms are at work as well, including climate cycles such as the AMO."

While natural climate cycles such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) are playing a part in desert's expansion, human-caused climate change is mostly to blame for this trend. Researchers claim that the study is the first to quantify the long-term effects of climate change and rainfall on the Sahara Desert and has implications for other deserts in the world.

Natalie Thomas, a graduate student in atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD and lead author of the study says. “Many previous studies have documented trends in rainfall in the Sahara and Sahel. But our paper is unique, in that we use these trends to infer changes in the desert expanse on the century timescale.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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