- The tropical rain band that wraps the globe north of the equator migrates as atmospheric temperature changes, altering rainfall patterns worldwide.
- Data from sediments in Pacific Island lakes show that the band is at 3°N to 10°N, as far north as it has ever been in at least 1,200 years.
- At current warming rates, the band could shift north by five degrees by 2100, drying out farmland for millions of people in Ecuador, Colombia and elsewhere.
- Multiyear drought conditions in the southwestern U.S. could persist as that area becomes more like the semiarid region of northern Mexico.
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The first indication that our expedition was not going as planned was the abrupt sputter and stop of the boat’s inboard engine at 2 a.m. The sound of silence had never been less peaceful. Suddenly, crossing the open ocean in a small fishing vessel from the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific Ocean seemed an unwise choice. A journey to a scientific frontier had led us to a different frontier altogether, a vast darkness punctuated by the occasional lapping wave.
We are climate scientists, and our voyage (which ended safely) was one of many intended to help us do what at first glance seems impossible: reconstruct rainfall history back in time, across an ocean. By tracing that history, we can gain a better understanding of how the ongoing buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, rising air temperatures and changes in tropical precipitation are likely to alter future climate patterns. We have traveled far and wide to numerous islands across the Pacific Ocean.
This article was originally published with the title A Shifting Band of Rain.