Positive side effects of global warming, 'deserts are turning green'

MUMBAI: Ever since we learnt of global warming we have been hearing about the devastating effects that it has wreaked on the earth and our lives. We have constantly heard environmentalists and scientists talk about the wide range of its impacts on the climate, and that these impacts would become more pronounced in time. 

There have been innumerable seminars, conferences over the decades on the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the unavoidable consequences of climate change. We have been told of rising temperatures, by about 1.8°F from 1901 to 2016, and how the planet is now warming faster than ever before. 

We have read how temperature rise has led to the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and more frequent and intense heat waves and has caused changes in precipitation. Many places have experienced changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain is also something that we read intermittently.

Glaciers melting at an alarming rate leading to rising sea levels have been consistently flagged. So also the point that oceans are warming up more than ever and also becoming more acidic, leading to coral bleaching, loss of marine biodiversity, and changes in the distribution and abundance of fish and other marine species.

In short, we have heard of the devastating effects of global warming, however, it seems not everything concerning global warming is bad after all. In fact, now we learn that some of the effects are extremely startling as new research throws stunning theories. And one of them is that the 'deserts are turning green.'

New research suggests that arid and parched deserts are becoming greener due to climate change and very shortly, by the end of the century to be precise some of the biggest deserts including one that is part of our country will have a green cover of vegetation. 

A recently publicised study, in the journal Earth’s Future, suggests an unexpected outlook of the Thar Desert. It says that the Thar spanning across half of Rajasthan, and partly in the Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan with nearly 200,000 square kilometres of desert territory will have a green cover in the next seventy-odd years. 

Scientists now believe that regreening deserts could help stabilize the weather systems that climate change has thrown out of balance. They are calling it desert greening and term it as, the process of afforestation or revegetation in deserts for ecological restoration.

According to a recent study, the consequences of climate change may cause the Thar Desert in India, which is renowned for its arid vastness, to experience a radical transformation. The corresponding author of the study, B. N. Goswami, from the Department of Physics at Cotton University, Guwahati said that understanding the dynamics of the Indian summer monsoon is key to comprehending how the climate could green the Thar Desert.

The research team of the study which also includes P. V. Rajesh from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, compiled weather data from South Asia over the past 50 years. The authors of the study underscore the potential benefits of harvesting this increased rainfall, foreseeing substantial improvements in food productivity that could revolutionise the socio-economic landscape of the region.

Furthermore, other research is indicating that due to changing rain patterns, the parched nation of Saudi Arabia is also undergoing a green transformation. Sattalitel images of NASA collated since 1987 have shown that fields of green have sprung up across the desert nation in several locations. Earlier this year, heavy rainfall, around the holy places Mecca and Medina turned the normally black or brown dunes into green.

Several climate change-related variables are credited for the deserts' greening. An important factor is naturally an increase in rainfall and a change in rain pattern. Regions that were formerly dry may experience more rainfall as a result of global warming, which will favourably affect plant growth and in turn the land fertile for vegetation. 

Another important factor for increased water availability in arid regions is attributed to melting ice caps and glaciers brought on by rising temperatures. With this additional water supply, vegetation can flourish and deserts can become greener.

Scientists are however yet unable to predict when the Sahara, the world's largest hot desert in the African continent, would turn green. Although they say that there is evidence that the Green Sahara event occurred as far back as 23 million years ago, including during periods when atmospheric carbon dioxide was similar to and possibly higher than today's levels.

Reports of snowing in the Sahara due to significant dips in night temperatures is a known phenomenon and in the past 42 years, it's been recorded five times, 1979, 2016, 2018 and 2021. In 1996 the snowfall reached up to 1 meter thick in 2016, while other times ice crystals have barely covered the Sahara desert, however, drastic changes in weather pattern is still not yet known. 

So, according to reports, although a future Green Sahara event is still 'likely' but only in the distant future.


  • Rommel Rodrigues
    Rommel Rodrigues

    Rommel is our Editor. He has close to three decades of experience in leading publishing houses including, Fortune India, Observer of Business & Politics, The New Indian Express etc.

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