Rainfall or lack thereof

Changes in temperature are altering evaporation and precipitation patterns, which means more rain in some places and less in others. The IPCC says these changes also mean more intense dry spells and rainstorms overall, with high-latitude areas in Europe, Russia, and Canada taking the hardest drenching.

The IPCC reports that inland mid-latitude regions — such as central Canada and inland Europe and Asia — are generally most at risk from more frequent and harsher droughts than what those areas currently experience. Although not in those regions, the land along the Mediterranean in Europe may also experience increased droughts. Droughts and high temperatures put major stress on forests and grasslands; dry, parched vegetation is a fire waiting to happen. The soil suffers, too. Dried out soil can release into the air the carbon that it used to store. (Refer to Chapter 2 for more about how soil contributes to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.) Drought is hard on people and animals, because all living things depend on water.

Deserts around the world are expanding. The Gobi desert in China, for example, is approaching Beijing — China is already 30 percent desert, expected to soon become 40 percent. Although expanding deserts are a natural phenomenon and not directly linked to global warming, the combination of increasing desert area and droughts can have negative effects of stressing freshwater sources and food production. The IPCC reports that the duo of natural warming and human-caused warming has caused the number of dry areas around the world to double since the 1970s. China is working to combat the expansion of the desert by planting forests.

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