The year 2100 could see billions facing food insecurity if continued emissions—and their attendant warming—causes the planet’s tropical rain belt to shift its position. And immediate climate action is needed to prevent already hard-hit regions in Africa and Central America from experiencing further catastrophic suffering.
“Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and other institutions analyzed how the tropical rain belt would respond to a future where greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise through 2100,” reports Ecowatch. The study, just published in the journal Nature Climate Change, used 27 cutting-edge climate models to examine how the equatorial rain belt—also known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone—will respond to further emissions, and their consequent warming.
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What they found is that, if emissions are allowed to rise over the next 80 years, there will be profound changes in rainfall patterns over almost two-thirds of the Earth. “The rain belt will shift northward over the Eastern Hemisphere, impacting countries in southeastern Africa,” devastating both water availability and food production.
Such projections are a cruel prophecy for countries like Madagascar, whose southern regions in particular have already suffered severe drought-induced food insecurity since 2016, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
“We only had one day of rain in December in the whole region. And the thunderstorms have been blasting…and destroying and burying the crops that were there,” said, Lola Castro, regional director for Southern Africa and Indian Ocean States for the UN agency. She urged immediate action as residents struggle to survive by eating “cactus mixed with mud, roots, whatever they can find, leaves, seeds, whatever is available.”
Breaking down the geophysics behind the rain belt shift, study co-author James Randerson explained that factors like glacial melt and snow cover loss in the Himalayas can cause the atmosphere above to heat up more quickly, acting in turn as a kind of meteorological magnet for the rain belt, which is naturally drawn to warmer climes.
In its own reporting on the UCI study, the Weather Channel notes that a northern shift of the rain belt will also disturb the Indian monsoon, which likely leading to a significant increase in storm severity and flooding.
In the Western Hemisphere, Ecowatch writes that the rain belt will likely shift south, a movement that will inflict yet “greater drought stress to Central America,” a region which is experiencing more than five years of recurring drought.
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