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Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot

Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot

MIT analysis uncovers the basis of the severe rainfall declines predicted by many models.

Although global climate models vary in many ways, they agree on this: The Mediterranean region will be significantly drier in coming decades, potentially seeing 40 percent less precipitation during the winter rainy season.

An analysis by researchers at MIT has now found the underlying mechanisms that explain the anomalous effects in this region, especially in the Middle East and in northwest Africa. The analysis could help refine the models and add certainty to their projections, which have significant implications for the management of water resources and agriculture in the region.

The study, published last week in the Journal of Climate, was carried out by MIT graduate student Alexandre Tuel and professor of civil and environmental engineering Elfatih Eltahir.

The different global circulation models of the Earth’s changing climate agree that temperatures virtually everywhere will increase, and in most places so will rainfall, in part because warmer air can carry more water vapor. However, “There is one major exception, and that is the Mediterranean area,” Eltahir says, which shows the greatest decline of projected rainfall of any landmass on Earth.

“With all their differences, the models all seem to agree that this is going to happen,” he says, although they differ on the amount of the decline, ranging from 10 percent to 60 percent. But nobody had previously been able to explain why.
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