Differential Impact of Desertification on Climate by Latitude

Ye Wang, Xiaodong Yan, and Zhaomin Wang. A preliminary study to investigate the biogeophysical impact of desertification on climate based on different latitudinal bands. International Journal of Climatology, 36:945-955 (2016)

Desertification is an international environmental challenge which poses a risk to portions of over 100 countries. Research into desertification and climate change has the potential to contribute to natural resources management and adaptation to climatic and other changes in Earth systems. An Earth system model of intermediate complexity (EMIC), the McGill Paleoclimate Model-2 (MPM-2) was used to explore the climatic biogeophysical effects of desertification in different latitude bands from 1700 to 2000 AD. It was found that latitudinal-band desertification attributable to forest and grass removal caused global cooling, land surface albedo increasing and precipitation reduction in the Northern Hemisphere as well as heat transport increasing in global ocean. These results highlighted global climate reaction to local desertification and demonstrated that the location of the desertification projected a potentially differential impact on local and global climate. That was, desertification in 0°–15°N gave a somewhat minor effect on global and local climate; desertification in 45°–60°N caused a significant reduction in global temperature while desertification in 15°–30°N induced a prominent reduction in local temperature. In response to desertification, surface albedo change as a forcing was the dominant biogeophysical driver of climate over the Northern Hemisphere while precipitation change as a response was probably the primary driver of climate over the Southern Hemisphere. Overall, the regional desertification may cause a global climatic effect, especially concerning desert expansion along the 15°–30°N and 45°–60°N latitude bands, which led to a more prominent effect on the Earth’s climate and even oceanic circulation. The results of this study provide useful information when comparing the effects of desertification in different latitude bands on climate.

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