Will deserts save us from climate change?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

cracked desert
While deserts do drink up bad chemicals from the air, they’re nowhere near as effective as lush forests.

Climate change may stir up images of boiling summers and melting ice caps, however, some of the hottest places on Earth are actually fighting global warming! According to a new study, deserts play a more helpful role than previously imagined.

One of the big problems with climate change has to do with greenhouse gases (GHGs) – gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The main GHG responsible for climate change is carbon dioxide, which comes in part from human activities like driving gas-powered cars. In fact, just last year, about 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were dumped into the atmosphere!

Researchers knew that certain areas of land and oceans absorbed the heat-trapping molecule in regions dubbed “carbon sinks”… they just didn’t know exactly where to find them. To locate where all the carbon was going, researchers fenced off specific land areas and pumped them full of large amounts of carbon dioxide. Three of these test sites were located in the Mojave Desert, and they were filled with the gas for about 10 years! It turns out that tiny microbes located in the soil around plants were drinking the gas right up.

So, does this mean deserts will be our saving grace from climate change? Frankly, they won’t. The scientists working on the study made it clear that these hot and dry areas are significant carbon sinks, but they absorb about 100 times less than plants located in forests.