Madagascar’s drought and climate change

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A group of scientists led by the University of California, Irvine, has found a clear connection between the ongoing long drought in southern Madagascar and climate change caused by human activities.

Their research, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, shows how changes in the climate are impacting the region, particularly in terms of water availability and agriculture.

The lead researcher, Angela Rigden, explained that they used data collected from satellites and climate models to understand how the region’s water cycle is changing.

They observed that the rainy season in southern Madagascar is getting shorter, starting later than it used to. This observation is a sign that the climate is changing.

One of the ways the team studied these changes was by looking at the ‘greenness’ of the region’s vegetation. The greenness of plants can tell scientists a lot about the amount of water in the soil.

By analyzing this data, the researchers could relate the health of the plants to the amount of water available, noticing significant shifts over time.

They compared these observations with predictions made by climate models that assume there’s no human-driven climate change.

The difference they found—particularly, the shortening of the rainy season—was a clear indicator that human-caused climate change is at play.

The research benefited from the long-term data collection capabilities of satellites. Such extensive records, dating back to the early 1980s, are particularly valuable for understanding changes in regions like southern Madagascar, where ground-level data might be harder to collect due to less developed infrastructure and poverty.

Christopher Golden, another researcher involved in the study and an associate professor at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been studying Madagascar for over two decades.

He noted that the people living in southern Madagascar, an already dry area, have been observing changes in rainfall patterns for years.

The motivation to conduct this study was further solidified in 2021 when the United Nations announced that southern Madagascar was experiencing famine due to climate change. This prompted the team to investigate the situation using satellite data.

Their findings are not just academic. They have practical implications, especially for organizations and policymakers involved in providing aid and planning for the future.

Knowing that the droughts and changes in seasonality are directly linked to climate change helps justify and direct funding for relief efforts.

Moreover, understanding that these changes are likely to continue into the future allows people and governments to prepare better.

By recognizing that these are not one-off events but part of a “new normal,” strategies can be developed to adapt to these changing conditions.

In summary, the research highlights the profound impact of climate change on regions like southern Madagascar.

It underscores the importance of using satellite data to monitor environmental changes and the need for global awareness and action to mitigate these impacts and prepare for the future.

The research findings can be found in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science.

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