Drought rates have more than doubled since the 1970s

The proportion of the earth’s land surface stricken by serious
drought has more than doubled between the 1970s and 2002, US
scientists have shown. Hotter, dryer summers are predicted for
Europe.

Over the past thirty years or so, widespread drying has occurred
over much of the earth’s land surface, including Europe, scientists
from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have
shown in a new study presented on 12 January.

“Global climate models predict increased drying over most land
areas during their warm season, as carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gases increase,” says NCAR’s Aiguo Dai, the lead author
of the study. “Our analyses suggest that this drying may have
already begun.”

The study adds fuel to the arguments of climate
campaigners in Europe. Jan Kowalzig at Friends of the Earth said:
“This new report shows what we can expect for Europe summers:
hotter and drier weather, with huge social and economic
costs.” 

Kowalzig calls for a “technological revolution in how Europe
produces and consumes energy” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. “We
can achieve this through increases in renewable energies and energy
efficiency, which will also trigger innovation and new economic
activity.”

According to NCAR, global warming has caused evaporation from
land areas, increasing the amount of water vapour in the air. As a
result, the average global precipitation has also risen
sharply.

“Droughts and floods are extreme climate events that are likely
to change more rapidly than the average climate,” says Dai.
“Because they are among the world’s costliest natural disasters and
affect a very large number of people each year, it is important to
monitor them and perhaps predict their variability.”

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