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Meet the world’s top 10 new deserts-to-be

Climate change will bring — is already bringing — numerous changes across the globe … one of which is likely to be a range of new desert areas around the planet.

So which regions are expected to go from lush, or even marginal, to outright desert in coming decades? Let’s take a tour:

The Mediterranean coast

sardiniaThe Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean and beginning to impact places like Sicily and Sardinia, according to the Italian environmental group Legambiente. A significant portion of the Iberian Peninsula and the French Riviera are also at risk as land and water resources are exploited beyond the ability of natural systems to replenish them, the organisation warns.

The trend is already worrying Spain’s winemakers, who are considering moving their vineyards to cooler, higher altitudes to keep their businesses afloat.

The American Southwest

lake-meadA study last year by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography/University of California – San Diego predicts that Lake Mead — a source of water for millions of people in the American Southwest — has a 50/50 chance of going dry by the year 2021.

“We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us,” said researcher Tim Barnett. “Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest.”


tibetIn Tibet alone, desert areas are growing by an estimated 98,000 acres per annum, and other regions of China are also feeling the impact of declining river flows and an increasing frequency of sandstorms. The World Resources Institute estimates that desertification is already costing China between $2 billion and $3 billion every year.

Northern Africa and the Sahel

Climate change is already being blamed for the ongoing brutal conflict in Darfur, as increasingly arid conditions have put farmers and pastoralists in competition for land. Both northern Africa and the Sahel can expect to see an even drier climate in years to come, scientists warn.

Southern Africa

south-africaWhile it’s generally accepted that other parts of Africa are growing increasingly dry as the climate changes, southern Africa is also at risk. A study earlier this year by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (PDF) gave a greater-than-90 per cent chance of even-drier dry seasons  in southern Africa.

The report concluded that many of the effects of climate change have already been set inexorably into motion and are likely to be irreversible and felt for up to the next 1,000 years. As a result, areas such as southern Africa and the Southeastern US could expect to see “dust bowl”-type conditions in the future, the researchers said.

Western Australia

perthFor many, the deadly wildfires across Australia this past February served as a wake-up call that climate change is not only real but is making itself felt now. The world’s driest inhabited continent, Australia is not only already suffering “The Big Dry” — years of extreme drought — but can expect more of the same in years to come, according to the NOAA report.

The Dominican Republic

A combination of drought and resource overuse is leading to increased desertification in the Dominican Republic, according to recent studies. Already, some five million Dominicans are feeling the impact of that trend.


sandstormAs if Iraq didn’t have enough troubles, the country is also seeing more — and increasingly worse — sandstorms. While already exceedingly dry, the nation is in the midst of a years-long drought that is making sandstorms a one- or twice-a-week, rather than monthly, occurence.


Even historically green Pacific islands like Fiji are noticing increased land degradation and growing food poverty, the Malaysian News Agency reports.


Like Australia, Argentina is also in the midst of a years-long drought — its worst in 70 years. Bloomberg reported late last month that the situation is currently so dire that the nation – the world’s fourth largest exporter of wheat — might actually put a complete stop to shipments of the grain this year.

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