Climate Change Is Turning More of Central Asia into Desert

As world temperatures rise, desert climates have unfold north by as much as 100 kilometres in components of Central Asia for the reason that Nineteen Eighties, a local weather evaluation reveals.

The research, revealed on 27 May in Geophysical Research Letters, additionally discovered that over the previous 35 years, temperatures have elevated throughout all of Central Asia, which incorporates components of China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In the identical interval, mountain areas have change into hotter and wetter — which could have accelerated the retreat of some main glaciers.

Such modifications threaten ecosystems and people who depend on them, says Jeffrey Dukes, an ecologist on the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California. The findings are a “great first step” in the direction of informing mitigation and adaptation insurance policies, he says.

Drier and warmer

More than 60% of Central Asia has a dry local weather with rare rainfall. With little water obtainable for vegetation and different organisms, a lot of the area is weak to rising temperatures, which increase water evaporation within the soil and heighten the danger of drought. Previous climate-change analysis has reported common modifications in temperatures and rainfall for big components of Central Asia, however that supplied restricted localized info for residents, says research co-author Qi Hu, an Earth and local weather scientist on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “We need to know the important subtleties of climate change in specific areas,” Hu says.

Hu and local weather scientist Zihang Han at Lanzhou University in China used air temperature and precipitation information from 1960 to 2020 to divide Central Asia into 11 local weather sorts.

They discovered that for the reason that late Nineteen Eighties, the world classed as having a desert local weather has expanded eastwards, and has unfold north by as a lot as 100 kilometres in northern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in southern Kazakhstan and across the Junggar Basin in northwestern China. Hu says it is a substantial growth and has had a domino impact on adjoining local weather zones, which have additionally change into drier. In some areas, the annual common temperature was at the very least 5 °C greater between 1990 and 2020 than it was between 1960 and 1979, with summers changing into drier and rainfall occurring principally throughout winter.

Over time, growing temperatures and lowering rainfall will see plant communities changing into dominated by species which are tailored to hotter and drier situations, says Dukes. “That’s going to have consequences for things like the grazing animals that are dependent on the steppe or the grasslands,” he says. In some areas, he provides, prolonged durations of drought will scale back the land’s productiveness till it turns into ‘dead’ soil.

Warmer and wetter

The staff discovered a special scenario in mountain areas. In the Tian Shan vary of northwestern China, rising temperatures have been accompanied by a rise within the quantity of precipitation that falls as rain reasonably than snow. Higher temperatures and elevated rainfall contribute to melting ice at excessive elevations, which could clarify the unprecedented shrinking price of glaciers on this vary, Hu says.

With a discount in snowfall, glaciers in Central Asia won’t replenish misplaced ice, which means that much less meltwater will circulation to individuals and crops sooner or later, says Troy Sternberg, a geographer on the University of Oxford, UK.

Global drawback

Desertification is a matter in Central Asia and different components of the world, says Mickey Glantz, a local weather scientist on the University of Colorado Boulder. But to conclude definitively that deserts are increasing, researchers ought to take a look at indicators equivalent to mud storms and heatwaves, reasonably than relying solely on local weather classification.

Human actions equivalent to mining and agriculture additionally contribute to desertification, Sternberg notes. So governments in Central Asia ought to give attention to sustainable farming and urbanization, he says. “Central Asia, like the rest of the world, should pay attention to the changing climate and try to be more adaptable to it.”

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on June 16 2022.

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