Afghan Droughts Linked to Rain in Indian Ocean. (If It's Wet in Malaysia ...)

By Perkins, S. | Science News, February 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

Afghan Droughts Linked to Rain in Indian Ocean. (If It's Wet in Malaysia ...)


Perkins, S., Science News


An analysis of nearly 2 decades of weather patterns suggests that there's a link between an abundance of precipitation in the eastern Indian Ocean and a lack of rain in portions of southwestern Asia.

A persistent drought recently afflicted more than 60 million people who populate the swath of land stretching from Iran to western Pakistan, says Heidi M. Cullen, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Smack in the middle of this area sits Afghanistan, which from 1998 to 2001 experienced its longest and most severe drought in the past 50 years. The dual plagues of drought and political unrest struck the country hard. Only 12 percent of Afghanistan's land is arable, and 80 percent of its residents are subsistence farmers, says Cullen.

The recent Afghan drought began soon after the appearance of La Nina, a climate trend in which the sea-surface temperatures in the central Pacific remain cooler than normal for at least several months. To investigate a possible connection between La Nina and Asian droughts, Cullen and her colleagues studied the weather patterns for the years 1979 through 1996, a period that excludes the most recent drought.

Not all La Nina years during that period resulted in droughts in southwestern Asia, the scientists found. …

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