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Science. 2018 Sep 7;361(6406):1019-1022. doi: 10.1126/science.aar5629.

Climate model shows large-scale wind and solar farms in the Sahara increase rain and vegetation.

Author information

1
Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA. yanli.geo@gmail.com ekalnay@umd.edu ssm@umd.edu.
2
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.
3
State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resources Ecology, Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China.
4
Institute for Physical Science and Technology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.
5
Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.
6
Earth System Physics Section, Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste I-34100, Italy.
7
Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.
8
LASG, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing 100029, China.

Abstract

Wind and solar farms offer a major pathway to clean, renewable energies. However, these farms would significantly change land surface properties, and, if sufficiently large, the farms may lead to unintended climate consequences. In this study, we used a climate model with dynamic vegetation to show that large-scale installations of wind and solar farms covering the Sahara lead to a local temperature increase and more than a twofold precipitation increase, especially in the Sahel, through increased surface friction and reduced albedo. The resulting increase in vegetation further enhances precipitation, creating a positive albedo-precipitation-vegetation feedback that contributes ~80% of the precipitation increase for wind farms. This local enhancement is scale dependent and is particular to the Sahara, with small impacts in other deserts.

PMID:
30190404
DOI:
10.1126/science.aar5629

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