Sahara to Get Hotter, Drier, Smaller

Article excerpt

By the end of this century, the world's hottest desert will be even hotter. The Sahara will also be smaller and drier than it is now, according to an international team of climate modelers.

The Sahara stretches the full width of northern Africa and now covers an area the size of the United States. But that area isn't constant: It can swell and shrink significantly in response to long-term weather patterns, says Gerald A. Meehl, a climate modeler at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. For example, an extended drought along the southern boundary of the desert in the 1970s led to its expansion there in the 1980s.

Overall, the portion of the Sahara that gets less than 50 millimeters of rain per year--a region that has almost no vegetation--expanded from the 1950s to the 1990s. However, Meehl and his colleagues predict that that trend will reverse in the present century. The researchers report their results in the July 15 GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS. …