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Shifting sands As climate change continues to drive desertification, one desert is set to undergo a surprising transformation

Climate change is driving desertification across the hottest and driest regions on Earth. By 2050, scientists predict that the Sahara Desert will have grown by more than 6,000 square kilometres; the UN estimates that creeping deserts could eventually drive 135 million people off their lands. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that one desert could undergo a surprising future transformation: it could become greener. The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is a vast arid region spanning more than 200,000 square kilometres of northwestern India and southeastern Pakistan, with some 60 per cent located in India’s largest state, Rajasthan. Characterised by its sparse vegetation, extreme temperatures and limited rainfall, it has long been considered one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. Nonetheless, it is home to more than 16 million people,

making it one of the world’s most densely populated desert regions.

Over on the other side of the country, located at roughly the same latitude, the Indian village of Mawsynram holds the record as the wettest place in the world, with an average annual rainfall of 11,872 millimetres. India’s unique geography – bordered by the Arabian


Thar Desert

Arabian Sea



Western Ghat s

Bay of Bengal


Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east, and abundant in highlands such as the Himalaya and Western Ghats – is responsible for the South Asian monsoon falling in the east while the west of the country remains dry. But meteorologists at Cotton University, India, believe that could soon change, as climate change drives the monsoon further west.

Analysing weather data collected from the past 50 years, the researchers looked at how rainfall patterns have already changed across South Asia, focusing on the duration and main location of the summer monsoon. They found that precipitation has already increased by as much as 50 per cent in the arid regions of western India and eastern Pakistan, and has decreased by ten per cent in India’s humid east.

According to climatologist Bhupendra Goswami, by the end of the century we can expect to see a 150–200 per cent increase in mean rainfall in northwestern India. The findings are

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