Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Greenhouse Gases Shifting Rain Band Northward

uwnews.org | Earth's most prominent rainfall feature creeping northward | University of Washington News and Information
June 30, 2009 | Science | Environment
Earth's most prominent rainfall feature creeping northward
Sandra Hines shines@u.washington.edu

The rain band near the equator that determines the supply of freshwater to nearly a billion people throughout the tropics and subtropics has been creeping north for more than 300 years, probably because of a warmer world, according to research published in the July issue of Nature Geoscience.

If the band continues to migrate at just less than a mile (1.4 kilometers) a year, which is the average for all the years it has been moving north, then some Pacific islands near the equator -- even those that currently enjoy abundant rainfall -- may be drier within decades and starved of freshwater by midcentury or sooner. The prospect of additional warming because of greenhouse gases means that situation could happen even sooner.

The findings suggest "that increasing greenhouse gases could potentially shift the primary band of precipitation in the tropics with profound implications for the societies and economies that depend on it," the article says.

"We're talking about the most prominent rainfall feature on the planet, one that many people depend on as the source of their freshwater because there is no groundwater to speak of where they live," says Julian Sachs, associate professor of oceanography at the University of Washington and lead author of the paper. "In addition many other people who live in the tropics but farther afield from the Pacific could be affected because this band of rain shapes atmospheric circulation patterns throughout the world."


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