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January-February 2010

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Weather Front

New studies reported in the journal Geology challenge existing predictions about the influence of Southeast Asian monsoons on the sandy dune fields of northern China. Scientists previously assumed that the dune fields that mark the margins of the Gobi Desert would stabilize over the next century as monsoon rains increase in southern China. They projected that more water would reach the dunes and allow stabilizing vegetation to take root in the sand.

But that prediction has been turned on its head. The monsoon season and periods of dune stabilization “turn out to be almost completely out of phase,” said University of Wisconsin–Madison geographer Joseph Mason. “The dunes can become active, and the climate there can become drier even when the monsoon is getting stronger. Apparently, increasing monsoons in China may lead to a drier Gobi Desert.”

KIMBRA CUTLIP is a freelance writer and former assistant editor for Weatherwise.

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