NASA Study Finds a Connection Between Wildfires and Drought
For centuries drought has come and gone across northern sub-Saharan Africa. In recent years, water shortages have been most severe in the Sahel—a band of semi-arid land situated just south of the Sahara Desert and stretching coast-to-coast across the continent, from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Sudan and Eritrea in the east. Drought struck the Sahel most recently in 2012, triggering food shortages for millions of people due to crop failure and soaring food prices.
Various factors influence these African droughts, both natural and human-caused. A periodic temperature shift in the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, plays a role, as does overgrazing, which reduces vegetative cover, and therefore the ability of the soil to retain moisture. By replacing vegetative cover’s moist soil, which contributes water vapor to the atmosphere to help generate rainfall, with bare, shiny desert soil that merely reflects sunlight directly back into space, the capacity for rainfall is diminished.
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Photo: Numerous fires create a smoky pall over the skies of western Africa. The image above was acquired on December 10, 2015.
Credits: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP