Global warming is a sad fact: NOAA weather satellite data collected from 1979 through 2005 show that the earth’s tropical zone has been steadily expanding since 1979. Researcher Thomas Reichler says, “It’s a big deal. The tropics may be expanding and getting larger. If this is true, it also would mean that subtropical deserts are expanding into heavily populated regions.”

Reichler adds, “The possible expansion of the tropics may be a totally new aspect of climate change. We don’t know for sure what triggered it. My research is investigating whether it is related to global warming or not. One can certainly think of various mechanisms of how global warming-related changes in the atmosphere could induce the changes we see.”

Atmospheric sciences researcher John M. Wallace is studying whether the jet streams, that mark the edge of the tropics, are moving towards the poles. He’s not sure if this is evidence of global warming or just an anomaly. He says, “If they move another 2 to 3 degrees poleward in this century, very dry areas such as the Sahara Desert could nudge farther toward the pole, perhaps by a few hundred miles.”

Jet streams, at altitudes of roughly 30,000 feet, are relatively narrow streams of high-speed air moving generally west-to-east, and divide form a barrier between warm, tropical air masses and the cooler air closer to the poles.

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