The Heat Is Online

Sahara Desert expands as atmosphere warms

The Sahara is growing, thanks in part to climate change

March 29, 2018

Earth’s largest hot desert, the Sahara, is getting bigger, a new study finds. It is advancing south into more tropical terrain in Sudan and Chad, turning green vegetation dry and soil once used for farming into barren ground in areas that can least afford to lose it.

Yet it is not just the spread of the Sahara that is frightening, the researchers say. It’s the timing: It is happening during the African summer, when there is usually more rain. But the precipitation has dried up, allowing the boundaries of the desert to expand.

“If you have a hurricane come suddenly, it gets all the attention from the government and communities galvanize,” said Sumant Nigam, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland and the senior author of the study. “The desert advance over a long period might capture many countries unawares. It’s not announced like a hurricane. It’s sort of creeping up on you.”