Mongolia may one day become a dry wasteland


According to new research, tree-rings of Siberian larch (pictured) and other species show that heatwaves and soil drying are accelerating in the Mongolian plateau.

According to new research, tree-rings of Siberian larch (pictured) and other species show that heatwaves and soil drying are accelerating in the Mongolian plateau.
The image: Ken Shono, Unplash

A review of weather patterns in interior East Asia over the last 260 years shows that the region is currently trapped in a dangerous cycle of heatwave and drought that may re-shape the region forever., And possibly turn the Mongolian plateau into a dry wasteland.

new The research Published today in Science is drawing a dangerous picture of the current climate situation in interior East Asia. Contemporary heatwaves and droughts are now occurring more frequently in the region than they did 20 years ago, but as the new study shows, there is no example of the current climatic condition in the region over the last 260 years. The authors of the new paper came to this conclusion after analyzing the tree-rings, which document droughts and heatwaves by the mid-18th century.

This is bad because the region is more prone to hot and dry weather. The Mongolian plateau is currently a semi-arid region, but it cannot remain that way. According to the study, such a climate is being predicted, in which the region will suffer even more heat and drought, which can make the region dry and barren as part of the US southwest. .

By analyzing rings of citrus trees from the Mongolian plateau, researchers were able to tell when heatwaves and droughts occurred in the past and when the soil was moist. The results showed that the current temperature in inner Asia is unprecedented in a record 260 years.

“Conifer trees react strongly to high temperatures,” said Linderholm. Study co-author and climatologist Hans Linderholm said, “By testing their growth rings, we can see their recent response to heat, and we can see that they haven’t experienced anything like this in their very long lives Do. Explained in a statement prepared by the University of Gothenburg, Utah State University.

Like the words in a book: a cross-section of Scots pine, one of several tree species used in the study.

Like the words in a book: a cross-section of Scots pine, one of several tree species used in the study.
The image: Peng Zhang

The current problem has to do with excessive soil drying. Okay, technically the problem has to do with anthropogenic climate change, but you know what I mean.

The evaporation produced by the wet soil cools the air immediately above the surface. Without moisture, however, heat transfers directly to the air about the ground. This creates a negative feedback loop: high temperatures are promoted by soil drying, but as the soil dries, it produces even more heat. As far as that ends, “we can’t say that,” said Deliang Chen, a co-author and researcher at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Hyungjun Kim, co-author and climate scientist at the University of Tokyo, said the process could lead to the triggering of “an irreversible feedback loop” that could accelerate the region “toward a hotter and drier future”.

This may eventually give rise to an irreversible tipping point that will lead the area to a permanent state of dryness. And as the authors write in the study, in fact, we have already crossed the region, because “the region’s semi-arid climate has entered a new regime, in which the soil moisture remains unchanged. is.”

There are other warning signs to be aware of. Research from China suggests that lakes are decreasing in size in the Mongolian plateau. In the last six years, scientists have reported a 26% reduction in the number of lakes larger than 0.4 square miles (1 sq km). But as new research suggests, it’s not just lakes that are losing water – so is the soil. The changing landscape will wreak havoc on the local ecosystem, including large herbivores such as wild sheep, antelope, and camels.

“It is recognizable that ‘normal’ climatic conditions are changing,” said Daniel Griffin, a scientist at the University of Minnesota who is not included in the new study. “However, what worries me the most is thinking about future extreme events: how serious can they be? And if the ‘new normal’ is extremely hot and dry by historical standards, then future extreme The range may be contrary to what has been seen before. ”

Importantly, climatic conditions in interior East Asia may affect climate elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, as weather in this part of the world is associated with global atmospheric circulation, according to the press release. Indeed, climate change knows some limitations, and has long reach. Sadly, even the Tibetan plateau, with its majestic snow-capped mountains and grasslands, is not immune.

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