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Tropical Atlantic cooling and African deforestation correlate to drought, report scientists

Against the backdrop of the Montreal Summit on global climate being held this week, an article on African droughts and monsoons, by a University of California, Santa Barbara scientist and others, which appears in the December issue of the journal Geology, underlines concern about the effects of global climate change.

Tropical ocean temperatures and land vegetation have an important effect on African monsoon systems, explains first author Syee Weldeab, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The monsoons are critical to sustaining agriculture in equatorial Africa.

Weldeab says that man's reduction of inland vegetation cover through deforestation and overgrazing in equatorial Africa and increases in global temperatures through the emission of greenhouse gases will likely strongly affect the African monsoon system in the future.

"The weakening of the monsoon has a huge effect," says Weldeab, "resulting in shortages of harvests and hunger."

As vegetation is cleared, the land loses its capacity to retain heat and becomes cooler. As the land cools relative to the ocean, there is a larger gradient between the ocean temperature and the land causing less moisture to be pulled from the ocean air toward the land.

Weldeab and his colleagues studied cores from beneath the ocean floor of the Gulf of Guinea, in the tropical Atlantic just off the coast of Cameroon, to understand the history of climate in the area for the past 10,000 years. The cores contain foraminifera, tiny plankton shells that are composed of calcium and trace elements. By studying the ratios of magnesium and calcium in the shells, the scientists are able to correlate that information to past temperature changes in the ocean. In analyzing these records for the past 10,000 years, the scientists found three pronounced cooling periods which indicate drought.

Besides the ocean records, the scientists a
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Source:University of California - Santa Barbara


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