Is Global Warming Curing Droughts In North Africa?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A new study claims that global warming has actually benefited Africa’s arid Sahel region in the form of increased rainfall. After suffering devastating droughts in the 1970s and 80s, rainfall has significantly increased.

“Scientists often study how greenhouse gas levels in the future will influence the climate,” Rowan Sutton, the study’s lead author and science professor at the University of Reading, said in a statement.

Sutton’s study used supercomputer-simulated climate scenarios to study the factors that change rainfall in North Africa. Most studies have said Sahel rainfall is influenced by temperature changes over the Atlantic and Indian oceans, but Sutton and his colleagues conclude that the increased rainfall is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The study argues that three-quarters of the increase in Sahel rainfall since the 1980s was due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, and not to natural variations in the Earth’s climate.

“This shows how climate change can hit specific countries and regions in a much more complicated way than the simple idea of ‘global warming’ might suggest,” Sutton added. “In particular, we are beginning to discover how climate change is influencing rainfall patterns. What we are learning shows that human activity is already having a major impact.”

Sutton’s study reinforces the theory that greenhouse gas emissions are becoming the dominant factor over natural climate cycles when it comes to temperature rises and changes in weather patterns. The study comes after massive flooding in Oklahoma and Texas killed dozens of people and caused massive amounts of property damage.

Some were quick to link the U.S. floods to global warming. Bill Nye the “Science Guy” created a stir on Twitter when he blamed the floods on “climate change.” Some scientists have also come out saying the floods are linked to mankind’s influence on the climate.

“As a scientist, I think it is essential to connect the dots between climate change and the increasing risk it poses to our families and communities,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, told ThinkProgress.

“Keeping our mouths shut on what the data is telling us, even if it’s in fear of vicious reprisals, is like a physician not telling a patient they have a dangerous condition just because they’re afraid of the patient’s reaction,” she said.

A noted meteorologist, however, argued that the flooding in Texas was not “unprecedented” and pointed to flood events from “2009, 2006, 1998, 1994, 1989, 1983, and 1979” that all brought more flooding to the Houston area.

“Many professional meteorologists feel like we are fighting a losing battle when it comes to national media and social media hype and disinformation,” wrote meteorologist James Spann. “You will never hear about the low tornado count in recent years, the lack of major hurricane landfalls on U.S. coasts over the past 10 years, or the low number of wildfires this year. It doesn’t fit their story. But, never let facts get in the way of a good story.”

Sutton’s Sahel study could add more fuel for those looking to further tie extreme weather events to human activities. Interestingly enough, another recent study found that a cooling trend in the Atlantic would bring drought conditions to the Sahel.

This cooling phase in the Atlantic will influence “temperature, rainfall, drought and even the frequency of hurricanes in many regions of the world,” said study lead author Dr. Gerard McCarthy.

“Sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic vary between warm and cold over time-scales of many decades,” said McCarthy. “This decadal variability, called the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO), is a notable feature of the Atlantic Ocean and the climate of the regions it influences.”

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