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Global warming could leave 25 percent of the planet in permanent drought

"Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity," researcher Chang-Eui Park said.

By Brooks Hays
Global warming could leave 25 percent of the planet in permanent drought
Pinyon pines struggle to withstand the drought conditions of the Southwest. An increase in aridity and drought conditions could lead to more intense wildfires and depress agricultural yields in some parts of the world. Photo by Tupungato/Shutterstock

Jan. 2 (UPI) -- New research suggests roughly a quarter of the globe could be left in permanent drought if efforts to curb global warming fail to meet the targets set by the Paris agreement.

Scientists compiled the predictions of 27 global climate models to determine which regions of planet Earth are most likely to experience significant aridification by the end of the century.

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Their analysis -- published this week in the journal Nature -- showed between 20 and 30 percent of the globe will be significantly drier than the aridity ranges established by historical year-to-year variations in precipitation.

"Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity," study author Chang-Eui Park, a researcher at the the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, said in a news release. "It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires -- similar to those seen raging across California."

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Researchers looked at likely rates of aridification for different levels of global warming, including a 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius rise in the average global temperature. The goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global warming to a 2 degree Celsius increase above Earth's pre-industrial average.

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"Another way of thinking of the emergence of aridification is a shift to continuous moderate drought conditions, on top of which future year-to-year variability can cause more severe drought," said Park, who also works at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. "For instance, in such a scenario 15 percent of semi-arid regions would actually experience conditions similar to 'arid' climates today."

The latest research shows limiting global warming to a 1.5 degrees rise would prevent much of the predictive aridification. Drought rates are already increasing across much of the globe, as Earth has already experienced a 1 degree Celsius rise in global average temperature.

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"The areas of the world which would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5 degree Celsius are parts of Southeast Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia -- where more than 20 percent of the world's population live today," said Tim Osborn, a professor at UEA.

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