Scientists May Bring Rainfall in the Sahara Desert

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 15:13

Researchers have found out that solar and wind farms could actually bring rainfall and greenery back to the Sahara desert.

A massive wind and solar installation in the desert would raise local temperature, precipitation and vegetation and could bring benefits to the area, according to a report published last week by the University of Illinois, Science Alert reports.

Wind and solar farms simulated in the study, conducted at the Sahara Desert because of its scale, lack of inhabitation and sensitivity to land changes, would cover more than 9 million square kilometres, according to the researchers.

Researchers found that precipitation doubled with the installation of the farms, growing by as much as 0.25 millimetres per day on average.

"Our model results show that large-scale solar and wind farms in the Sahara would more than double the precipitation in the Sahara, and the most substantial increase occurs in the Sahel, where the magnitude of rainfall increase is between ~200 and ~500 mm per year," says first author of the study Yan Li, who began the research at Maryland and is now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"The rainfall increase is a consequence of complex land-atmosphere interactions that occur because solar panels and wind turbines create rougher and darker land surfaces," said Eugenia Kalnay, a co-researcher of the study.

"This increase in precipitation, in turn, leads to an increase in vegetation cover, creating a positive feedback loop," added Yan Li.

The wind and solar farms also created an average of three and 79 terawatts of clean energy respectively, said the scientists.

"The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions," said co-researcher Safa Motesharei.

"In addition to avoiding anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and the resulting warming, wind and solar energy could have other unexpected beneficial climate impacts when deployed at a large scale in the Sahara, where conditions are especially favorable for these impacts," the team writes in their paper.

The findings are reported in Science.

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