North Africa's Sahel region is no stranger to droughts. Efforts have been made to aid the drought-stricken region but relief came from somewhere else: climate change.
Researchers from the University of Reading, UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science carried out a study and found that high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere inadvertently triggered rains for the season, providing what Sahel needed for drinking and agriculture. According to the researchers, their study proves that the African climate is fragile and sensitive to changes brought about by climate change.
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a big portion of North Africa was hit with persistent drought which caused a famine that claimed over 100,000 lives. Rainfall levels have significantly recovered but Africa is still troubled by dry seasons.
For the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers turned to a supercomputer to simulate climate in North Africa to explore the different influences that affect rainfall. When rains started picking up since the 1980s, around three-fourths of it was apparently due to growing concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Earlier studies, however, have listed other possible factors, like temperature changes in the Indian and Atlantic oceans, that could affect the region's climate in the short term.
Rowan Sutton, the study's lead, said scientists commonly look at how levels of greenhouse gases can affect the climate in the future. But what their research is showing is that dramatic effects are being felt now.
"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," he added.
According to the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Africa faces a lot of risks from climate change. If levels of greenhouse gases don't go down, the continent is looking at sea levels rising, droughts, heatwaves and flooding that can threaten food security and encourage the growth of disease.
Sutton said short-term impact may be positive but they are accidental. Seriously upsetting nature with continued greenhouse gas emissions will only result in major effects that will do more harm than good. He is hopeful that those participating in the climate conference in Paris later in the year will take to heart the gravity of the situation and come up with initiatives to meet current and future goals to address climate change.
Buwen Dong also contributed to the study.
Photo: Zoltán Vörös | Flickr