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06/07/2013

Lake Chad's shrinking mystery solved

Lake
A young boy takes water from Lake Chad  to drink, in Koudouboul, Chad  in this 2006 photo. (AP/Christophe Ena)

Ever wondered what really happened to Lake Chad?

In its glory days during the 1960s, it was 38,000 square kilometres of sparkling blue-green water that nourished humans, animals and plant life in the four countries it straddled: Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. But the lake is now a speck of what it was -- just 1,300 square kilometres in size.

The prolonged drought of the 1980s was initially blamed for its death and now new research by New University of Washington, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, says that drought was caused in part by Northern Hemisphere air pollution.

The research is yet to be published but Science Daily spoke to researchers who worked on it. 

Previous research has suggested a link between coal-burning and the drought but this is believed to be the first study that used historical observations to find that this drought was part of a global shift in tropical rainfall.

Eventually, when clean-air legislation passed in the U.S. and Europe, the rain band shifted back, and the drought lessened.

Related research by the researchers and their collaborators shows that global warming is now causing the land-covered Northern Hemisphere to warm faster than the Southern Hemisphere, further reversing the pre-1980s trend.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh


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