Another global warming catastrophe: the Sahara Desert is getting greener

posted at 5:21 pm on June 2, 2015 by Jazz Shaw

This story is actually quite fascinating and it obviously has something to do with changes in the climate, but just how to explain it all remains a subject of contention. You would think that increasing temperatures would make things worse in the deserts of the world, but in a rather counterintuitive instance of planet watching, it appears that the Sahara desert may actually be shrinking.

A few thousand years ago, a mighty river flowed through the Sahara across what is today Sudan. The Wadi Howar—now just a dried-out riverbed for most of the year—sustained not just fish, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses, but also agriculture and human settlement. As late as 1,000 B.C., a powerful fortress stood on its shores. But then the Sahara dried out, turning from a green savannah into an inhospitable desert. The culprit: climate change. According to desert geologist Stefan Kröpelin, who has studied geological data for the eastern Sahara going back 6,000 years, the desert spread as temperatures dropped. Global cooling meant that the air had less capacity to hold moisture from the oceans, leading to fewer rains and more arid climes.

Now, that same process is happening in reverse. As temperatures rise, the Sahara and other dry areas are greening on the edges. “I’ve been studying the Sahara for 30 years and can definitely say that it’s getting greener,” says Kröpelin, who specializes in desert archaeology and climate history at the University of Cologne. Where there used to be nothing but desert, he says, there is now not just grass but shrubs and acacia trees–and he has the photos from 30 years of extensive field study to prove it. “The nomads are taking their camels to graze in areas where they’ve never been able to graze before.” Satellite data showing more green on the southern edge of the Sahara also bear him out. “There are always winners and losers if weather patterns change,” he says. “But as a general rule, warmer temperatures inevitably mean that the air picks up more moisture from the oceans, which will lead to more rainfall. If you look at the geological records in the Sahara, there have been repeated periods where the Sahara was greener when temperatures were warmer than today.”

So the desert was originally created around six thousand years ago under this theory. (Clearly caused by the hydraulic fracturing taking place in the Garden of Eden. Darned industrialist snakes…) But now the warmer temperatures are causing more rain at the edges of the desert? The subject is endlessly fascinating. Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of theories being tossed out in the scientific community regarding the planet’s biggest, baddest desert. One of the most recent ones – and for some reason I thought this was generally accepted, but perhaps not – is that the planet’s orbital tilt drifts over time. Around the same time period they’re talking about in this article, the tilt began to change, shifting the planet into a less inclined tilt from then until now.

The widely-held belief is that the Sahara dried up due to a change in the Earth’s orbit, which affects solar insolation, or the amount of electromagnetic energy the Earth receives from the Sun. In simpler terms, insolation refers to the amount of sunlight shining down on a particular area at a certain time, and depends on factors such as the geographic location, time of day, season, landscape and local weather.

Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, explained that around 8,000 years ago, the Earth’s orbit was slightly different to how it is today. The tilt changed from around 24.1 degrees to the present-day 23.5 degrees.

“Additionally, the Earth had its closest approach to the Sun in the northern hemisphere (with) summer in August,” Schmidt said. “Today, that closest approach is in January. So, summertime in the north was warmer back then than it is now.”

Earlier theories speculated that there was a growing “rain shadow” effect caused by the continually rising Himalayan Mountains, disrupting weather patterns and stopping the rainfall in some areas. Still other have said that eccentricities in the earth’s orbit around the sun (a different consideration than the orbital tilt) have periodically thrown things off kilter in either direction which also contributed to the growth or recession of major deserts.

In either event, even if we can’t nail down exactly what’s causing it and to what degree the effects are felt, this must at least be some good news for farmers and herders in Africa. Party on, folks.


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Comments

“Might grow weed” –weedisgood

Schadenfreude on June 2, 2015 at 5:24 PM

It used to be lush green where the Great Pyramids are.

The Notorious G.O.P on June 2, 2015 at 5:25 PM

See, climate change is creating more jihadi’s…. /

Athos on June 2, 2015 at 5:30 PM

Great, just great, first the polar bears, now the camels.

antipc on June 2, 2015 at 5:34 PM

The peninsula now occupied by Saudi Arabia used to be called Arabia Felix (=happy in Latin) by the Romans, due to its lush gardens. Could the rains come back there someday?

Beyond whatever changes might occur in rainfall patterns, increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the entire Earth greener, since it increases plant growth rates and crop yields. One of those unintended consequences that the global Gore-ing alarmists tend to overlook.

Steve Z on June 2, 2015 at 5:39 PM

I blame Bush.

yetanotherjohn on June 2, 2015 at 5:41 PM

I like how liberals get to decide what the “best” temperature is for each and every part of the world.

panama on June 2, 2015 at 5:41 PM

Plants love all that extra CO2….

albill on June 2, 2015 at 5:42 PM

Why are we even discussing this?

When there are people like Caitlyn out there…

ToddPA on June 2, 2015 at 5:46 PM

Global warming, ain’t nothing it can’t do!

GarandFan on June 2, 2015 at 5:50 PM

Honestly, my suspicion is this is happening due to global temperatures having been falling for the past few years.

Doomberg on June 2, 2015 at 5:51 PM

One of the most recent ones – and for some reason I thought this was generally accepted, but perhaps not – is that the planet’s orbital tilt drifts over time.

Not. The northern hemisphere is still the northern hemisphere. And the southern hemisphere is still the southern hemisphere.

Earlier theories speculated that there was a growing “rain shadow” effect caused by the continually rising Himalayan Mountains, disrupting weather patterns and stopping the rainfall in some areas.

That happens over millions of years, not thousands.

This is climate change and weather patterns due to climate change. Has been happening since earth had an atmosphere. Will happen until the Earth no longer has an atmosphere.

cozmo on June 2, 2015 at 5:52 PM

I read an article a few years ago that some scientists looking at what would happen to the Sahara if the Earth’s temp increased a few degrees. In their model it disappeared entirely. Less rain was falling to the south, but got dumped going over the mountains in the central Sahara. Once rain increased vegetation started growing more prolifically, which resulted in even more rainfall. It spread out from there.

If you want to see where super deserts were a huge thing look at a map of the earth during the ice ages. There were huge ones then. There’s one is Antarctica; in some places it’s too cold for atmospheric moisture.

OtherWise on June 2, 2015 at 5:53 PM

Why are we even discussing this?

When there are people like Caitlyn out there…

ToddPA on June 2, 2015 at 5:46 PM

I think there are a few threads where you can discuss Bruce’s new persona. I’ll stay here.

cozmo on June 2, 2015 at 5:54 PM

Climate Change, Global Warming or whatever you want to call it, is the world’s new Communism. Extort money from the Proliteriat at any cost through fear mongering.

Krupnikas on June 2, 2015 at 5:55 PM

Global Cooling.

DinaRehn on June 2, 2015 at 5:55 PM

I blame Bush.

yetanotherjohn on June 2, 2015 at 5:41 PM

Heh! I see what you did there….

DinaRehn on June 2, 2015 at 5:56 PM

” Climate change is HELPING Africa because greenhouse gases are bringing rain to areas that have suffered drought for decades, says new study…”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3105940/Climate-change-bringing-rain-Africa-30-years-Live-Aid-tried-help-end-famine.html#ixzz3bwcXLPs1
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Nature…she’s gonna do her thing…

God Bless Texas!

workingclass artist on June 2, 2015 at 5:58 PM

There is an interesting National Geographic documentary detailing “How the Earth was Made”.

It was pretty amazing the effect of the Teutonic plates movements on the earth and climate. It makes all mankind insignificant.

One feature included the Sahara and the effect that about every 28,000 years the desert gives way to green and then goes back to desert. It never specified a cause nor effect.

The documentary also showed space photographs of where the green used to be in the Sahara.

bumsteaddithers on June 2, 2015 at 6:03 PM

CO2 is plant-food. There are reasons why green houses are green.

LancerDL on June 2, 2015 at 6:06 PM

and under Antarctica there are caverns and flowing rivers that suggest at some point it was warmer there.

dmacleo on June 2, 2015 at 6:07 PM

bumsteaddithers on June 2, 2015 at 6:03 PM

That would be tectonic plates.

When I was studying geology, they thought there were only seven.

My how science changes in just a few decades.

cozmo on June 2, 2015 at 6:11 PM

So what we basically know is that Earth is an ever changing place, whether or not there is human activity.

Tater Salad on June 2, 2015 at 6:15 PM

This story is actually quite fascinating and it obviously has something to do with changes in the climate, but just how to explain it all remains a subject of contention. You would think that increasing temperatures would make things worse in the deserts of the world, but in a rather counterintuitive instance of planet watching, it appears that the Sahara desert may actually be shrinking.

The entire Sahara greens regularly in its own cycle.

http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/green-sahara-african-humid-periods-paced-by-82884405

NotCoach on June 2, 2015 at 6:18 PM

But are the oceans receding as obama promised he’d make them do?

Andy__B on June 2, 2015 at 6:23 PM

Just in time for ISIS to plant their first crop.

profitsbeard on June 2, 2015 at 6:35 PM

And with the greening of the Sahara will come the demise of the endangered “Gonorrhea Sand Mite” whose venom causes uncontrollable, incurable, and disfiguring venereal disease before the victim finally lapses into a pain-wracked coma as their body liquefies from the inside out, finally withering away weeks later in spasms of violent retching while their bones snap into shards.

The libs are collecting signatures to force politicians to spend billions in an effort to protect this rare and lovable species from the evils of global warming.

Bishop on June 2, 2015 at 6:37 PM

It’s quite possible the leftist effs surmise a prosperous environment and want to be on top of it

They need killing

Mr Soames on June 2, 2015 at 6:38 PM

My how science changes in just a few decades.

cozmo on June 2, 2015 at 6:11 PM

Nuh uh. The science is settled. The Democrats have it all figgered out.

Closet Optimist on June 2, 2015 at 6:43 PM

As late as 1,000 B.C., … . The culprit: climate change.

Damned SUV’s and coal powered electricity plants.

You’d think we would’ve learned from their mistakes.

Oxymoron on June 2, 2015 at 6:59 PM

Who cares ? In a few years we’ll all be dead.

PilotInCommand on June 2, 2015 at 7:04 PM

This is congruent with the study that shows carbon dioxide emissions help tropical rainforests grow faster.

Turns out, it’s capitalism that’s good for the planet.

Star Bird on June 2, 2015 at 7:06 PM

Climate Change?
It’s possible; everything else changes – mountains weather, rivers silt up, swamps grow and shrink. Don’t see why the climate can’t change too.
Do I believe we should turn over our fate and future to a bunch of self righteous, short tempered, cover the ground with garbage wherever they meet, two-bit tin pot would be dictators who believe that the world has about six billion too many people?
Not in a million years.
I cannot imagine a greater danger to human life than the environmental movement.
They must be kept from power, whatever it costs.

thelastminstrel on June 2, 2015 at 7:06 PM

Global greening.

HiJack on June 2, 2015 at 7:24 PM

Less carbon. The end-all, be-all solution.

Carnac on June 2, 2015 at 7:39 PM

The more water is locked up in polar ice caps, the less is available for precipitation. At one time, the entire Middle East was far less dry, and more ideal for human population. It’s quite possible that Egypt developed irrigation to compensate for the gradually increasing droughts.

As the Middle East became dryer, forests began to develop in more temperate climates.

Incidentally, Siberia was a much more temperate clime at one time. The mammoths that thrived in Siberia back then could never survive as it is there now, because elephants simply require too much vegetation for food to subsist in a place like Siberia where the only edible vegetation during the short summer is moss.

So what does all this prove?

Nothing. The earth’s climate is influenced by far too many factors to draw direct cause and effect relationships between just a few.

The only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that the climate has changed a lot over just the last few thousand years. Can’t blame it all on the Industrial Revolution.

There Goes the Neighborhood on June 2, 2015 at 8:21 PM

This article is wrong. The green around the desert was from the wind blowing the seeds of Obama’s economic green shoots.

MikeM on June 2, 2015 at 8:26 PM

It’s the CO2 and it’s greening up the Australian outback as well. The climate hucksters have been killing themselves hiding the decline. Now they must also strive to hide the green (or at least explain it).

ROCnPhilly on June 2, 2015 at 9:53 PM

Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies…

Schmidt is one of the biggest climate frauds around and a member of the climate fraud team. He is not a credible source of information unless you enjoy being lied to.

earlgrey on June 2, 2015 at 10:39 PM

Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of theories being tossed out in the scientific community regarding the planet’s biggest, baddest desert.

The world’s biggest, harshest, driest* desert is not the Sahara, it is the Antarctic. There’s a simple lesson there: cold kills.

*despite the miles of ice, there’s no humidity at 50 below, and the Antarctic Desert receives less annual precipitation than the Sahara

TallDave on June 2, 2015 at 11:13 PM

Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt

Wouldn’t trust him to read the thermometer outside my window. This is the nutbag who claimed the temperature record is accurate to .1 degrees even though he’s changed most of it by more than that since he said that.

TallDave on June 2, 2015 at 11:16 PM

“Stop unauthorized Global Greenery!”

orangemtl on June 3, 2015 at 3:39 AM

the Sahara Desert is getting greener

That doesn’t look so hot!

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on June 3, 2015 at 5:10 AM

I read an article a few years ago that some scientists looking at what would happen to the Sahara if the Earth’s temp increased a few degrees. In their model it disappeared entirely. Less rain was falling to the south, but got dumped going over the mountains in the central Sahara. Once rain increased vegetation started growing more prolifically, which resulted in even more rainfall. It spread out from there.

If you want to see where super deserts were a huge thing look at a map of the earth during the ice ages. There were huge ones then. There’s one is Antarctica; in some places it’s too cold for atmospheric moisture.

OtherWise on June 2, 2015 at 5:53 PM

This was written 4 years ago.

ARTICLE 08.26.11 2:14 PM ET

The Upside to Global Warming

Climate change is desiccating some areas of the globe—but it’s also leading to the re-greening of the world’s most inhospitable deserts.

Patriot Vet on June 3, 2015 at 8:16 AM

I blame Bush.

yetanotherjohn on June 2, 2015 at 5:41 PM

Well, I blame the Bushes.

Are you looking for some Shrubbery? (e.g. Monty Python)

Missilengr on June 3, 2015 at 12:31 PM

Does this mean that Toto will stop missing the rains down in Africa?

LoganSix on June 3, 2015 at 1:45 PM

If lots of water starts to be fill the ground in the Sahara, by how much will sea levels fall?

Also, considering how much money the world wants to throw at the climate change ‘problem’, how much would it cost to build a massive canal — say 100 metres wide and two thousand miles long — into the Sahara so that there was a constant source of water to be evaporated, condensed and dropped onto the land?

YiZhangZhe on June 3, 2015 at 4:11 PM