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Iranian cave warns of 10,000 years of drought

Climate history locked in stalagmite evidence warns of 10,000 years of drought – 100 centuries – to come in the Middle East.

LONDON, 11 July, 2017 – Here is the long-term weather forecast for the heart of the Middle East. There will be 10,000 years of drought before rainfall increases significantly. If anything, rainfall will decrease.

And then, 100 centuries from now, subtle shifts in the planetary orbit and Earth’s axis will combine to bring a climate shift. Slightly more sunlight will fall on Eurasia, the climate regime of the North Atlantic will shift and the Mediterranean storms will return, bringing with them more rain.

The hard evidence for this story of future climate is locked in subterranean stalagmites, calcium carbonate deposits that grow slowly upwards on the floor of a cave in northern Iran.

A team of Iranian and US-based scientists used a sophisticated measuring technique – the shorthand for it is uranium-thorium geochronometry – to date their stalagmite samples and then use them to “read” the climate history of the region.

They report in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews that their samples and the isotope evidence within them spanned a record of annual rainfall – and therefore regional weather – for a period that began 127,000 years ago and ended 73,000 years ago, and another that spanned 7,500 to 6,500 years ago.

No relief foreseeable

And the evidence says: the drought is not going to end any time soon, whatever the politicians might say.

“Local governments generally prefer the narrative that the region is only in a temporary dry spell and better prospects of water availability lie ahead,” said Sevag Mehterian, based at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School, who led the research.

“Our study has found evidence to the contrary, suggesting that, in fact, the future long-term trend based on paleoclimate reconstructions is likely towards diminishing precipitation, with no relief in the form of increased Mediterranean storms, the primary source of annual precipitation to the region, in the foreseeable future.”

The Eastern Mediterranean is right now in the grip of the worst drought for the last 900 years. The collapse of agriculture, as the fields parch and the wells begin to dry up, has been linked to the catastrophic conflict in Syria.

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