When the Midwest U.S. Becomes Desert; What Then?

Part of the fun of writing for any author or screenwriter is to put characters in new or unusual conditions to see how they react.


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These could be important thought experiments, for it seems humanity as a whole is working this experiment on ourselves without too much consideration on where it might lead.  Already, the southern U.S. and northern Mexico are experiencing drought conditions with about half the rainfall than just a decade ago as weather patterns "shift" to the north.

While debate about why this is happening continues, the fact that it is happening is obvious.  This report predicts that at the current rate of warming, Alaskan and Canadian tundra will become woodlands and grasslands by the year 2100.  There are many questions about this change to be answered, fertile ground for writers of fiction.  Try putting your characters in a world where the southern U.S. is sandy, barren desert, the strip from Seattle to New England is similar to what was found in the south, and Canada north is the temperate zone for agriculture, and most comfortable for human habitation.  
  1. How might this change the human condition?  
  2. How will this change the current geo-political situation?  
  3. What will people be forced to do to survive let alone prosper?  
  4. Will society collapse into anarchy? 
  5. Or will other political systems evolve?
I'm sure you can come up with many more questions than this.  

Here's the report out of the University of Arkansas:
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Climate researchers have calculated that the spread of plant species in nearly half the world's land areas could be affected by predicted global warming by the end of the century.

An international research team led by Song Feng, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Arkansas, used a scenario projecting an annual 3- to 10-degree increase in Celsius temperatures by 2100 to calculate that climate types will change in 46.3 percent of the global land area.

That scenario is referred to by climate scientists, according to Song, as "business as usual" because it assumes that "what we continue to do today we will do in the future, meaning that there will be no significant measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that are warming the planet," he said.

The scenario has been adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and calls for moderate to strong warming in the middle and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere and weaker warming in the tropics and the southern hemisphere.

"Climates are associated with certain types of vegetation," Feng said. "If the surface continues to get warmer, certain native species may no longer grow well in their climate, especially in higher latitudes. They will give their territory to other species. That is the most likely scenario."

Native vegetation is the best expression of climate
Their study examined shifts in climate regimes around the world using the Köppen-Trewartha climate classification, which is based on the concept that native vegetation is the best expression of climate. The researchers analyzed observations made from 1900 to 2010, and simulations from 1900 to 2100 from 20 global climate models participating in a project of the World Climate Research Programme.

"Changes in precipitation played a slightly more important role in causing shifts of climate type during the 20th century. However, the projected warming plays an increasingly important role and dominates shifts in climate type when the warming becomes more pronounced in the 21st century," said Feng, an assistant professor of geosciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

"Those vast changes also imply that the global land area is experiencing vegetation-type conversions, with species distributions quite different from those that are familiar to us in modern civilization," he said. "This study is on the broad scale, it showing the big picture."

Overall, models consistently project increasing precipitation over the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere and reduced precipitation in southwestern North America, the Mediterranean, northern and southern Africa and all of Australia, according to the study.

Based on the projected changes in temperature and precipitation, current climates will shift toward warmer and drier climate types. Regions of temperate, tropical and dry climate types are projected to expand, while regions of polar, sub-polar and subtropical climate types are projected to contract.

Predictions show the tundra in Alaska and Canada giving way to trees, shrubs and plants typical of more southerly climates, as well as other global landscape changes.
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Story Source: Song Feng et al. Projected climate regime shift under future global warming from multi-model, multi-scenario CMIP5 simulations. Global and Planetary Change, January 2014

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