How Clean Power Could Make a Desert Bloom

by Chris Carroll | Illustration by Margaret Hall

Filling the Sahara, the Earth’s largest hot desert, with wind and solar electricity generation farms wouldn’t just create a lot of clean energy—it could reverse creeping desertification and open up broad landscapes to agriculture, according to a UMD-led study in Science.

Large-scale solar and wind farms in the Sahara would more than double the precipitation in the Sahara, said Yan Li, a former postdoctoral researcher at Maryland and a lead author of the paper. The installations would affect land surface properties, altering regional climates. The study, published in September, was conducted with a novel, interactive combination of a global climate model and a land/vegetation model.

Eugenia Kalnay, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, said in an NPR interview she hit on the idea when considering the mechanisms that cause deserts to grow.

“It occurred to me that the same [cycle could] go in the opposite way, so it would increase precipitation, and vegetation, and then more precipitation,” she said.


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