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New study challenges finding that climate change will drive dryland expansion

New study challenges finding that climate change will drive dryland expansion

A new study suggests that, contrary to previous research, climate change will not cause global drylands to expand.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change, argues that previous studies often used atmosphere-only metrics to assess changing drylands and are, therefore, based on “incorrect projections” of the water cycle on land.

The new study presents an alternative way of defining drylands which includes land surface properties, such as the response of plants to rising CO2 levels. Using this method, the authors find that the global dryland area will not change significantly over the coming century as the climate warms.

While the CO2 effects on vegetation “have long been known”, the lead author explains to Carbon Brief that their work is “kind of a response to many studies that are ignoring these effects by just looking at atmospheric outputs”.

What are drylands?

Drylands are defined as regions with a dry climate, limited water, and scarce vegetation. They include deserts, grasslands, shrublands and savannah woodlands, and currently cover around 40% of the planet’s land surface.

However, there is no single measurement to identify drylands, so metrics combining more than one measurement are often used. The map below shows where present-day drylands are located according to two metrics that will be discussed later in this piece.

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