The Heat Is Online

US Wheatfields Could Be Deserts in a Decade


The great crop-growing plains in the Midwestern United States are far more susceptible to desertification from temperature change than was previously believed, according to 1996 findings by researchers at the US Geological Survey. William K. Stevens reported in the New York Times in May of that year that a team of scientists, led by Dr. Daniel Muhs, have discovered that the western plains, covered by a thin layer of grazing grass, could become deserts after a few years of drought conditions.

The findings, which indicate that our current Holocene climatic period has been much more volatile than previously believed, imply that relatively small changes in atmospheric circulation patterns -- such as those projected under increased greenhouse gas conditions -- have triggered massive floods as well a the migration of sand dunes over previously fertile growing land. The catastrophic Sahara-like conditions which occurred in the Western plains as late as the late 18th Century. "could be touched off if predicted climate changes resulting from accumulations of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide come to pass," Stevens wrote of the researchers’ findings.

Citation: "Great Plains or Great Desert? A Sea of Dunes Lies in Wait," William K. Stevens, The New York Times, May 28, 1996. See also .