A recent study led by a UC Riverside atmospheric scientist has made predictions that unchecked carbon emissions will lead to a significant northward shift in tropical rains in the coming decades. This shift would have a profound impact on agriculture and economies near the Earth’s equator. The study suggests that the northward rain shift would be a result of complex atmospheric changes influenced by carbon emissions affecting the formation of the intertropical convergence zones.

Regions near the equator, such as central African nations, northern South America, and Pacific island states, among others, would be the most affected by this northward shift in tropical rains. These areas are major producers of crops such as coffee, cocoa, palm oil, bananas, sugarcane, tea, mangoes, and pineapples. The study indicates that this shift is estimated to last for around 20 years before other factors including warming southern oceans pull the convergence zones back southward for a longer period.

Intertropical convergence zones are critical regions along or near the equator where trade winds from the northern and southern hemispheres meet and rise into the cooler elevations, drawing moisture from the oceans. This moist air cools at higher elevations, leading to the formation of thunderclouds and heavy rainstorms. It is noted that tropical rainforests can receive up to 14 feet of rain per year. The impact of a small shift in this rainfall is significant, affecting agriculture and economies in various societies.

Methods Used in Study

The researchers used advanced computer models to predict the influence of carbon dioxide emissions from sources like fossil fuels on the atmosphere. The climate model included components such as the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, and land, all interacting with each other to simulate real-world scenarios. By increasing carbon dioxide emissions from pre-industrial levels, the researchers were able to assess the impact on the atmosphere, leading to a northward shift in rain-forming convergence zones by approximately 0.2 degrees on average.

The study’s predictions of a northward shift in tropical rains due to unchecked carbon emissions highlight the potential impacts on agriculture and economies near the equator. Understanding these complex atmospheric changes and their effects on the formation of intertropical convergence zones is crucial for developing strategies to mitigate the consequences of climate change.


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