Climate scientists have long predicted that the amount of moisture evaporating off land and released by plants would increase as Earth’s overall climate warms.
This “evapotranspiration” did indeed rise until 1998, but then the overall trend reversed.
Writing in the journal Nature, researchers from Europe and the U.S. say that large parts of Australia, Africa and South America have since dried up.
While the cause for the sudden drying is not entirely understood, its consequences could be severe.
The subsequent loss of plants would allow more CO2 to build in the atmosphere. And the loss of natural cooling produced by evaporation could cause more heating of the land in a “feedback loop” that could intensify global warming, the researchers caution.