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Deforestation Strengthens Storms in West Africa

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Aftermath of mudslide in Sierra Leone. Credit: A devastating mudslide ripped through Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown in August 2017, burying homes and killing at least 1,100 people. Triggered by weeks of unusually heavy rain, it was one of the worst environmental disasters the region had experienced in years.

More than four years later, scientists are concerned that it could happen again. Rainstorms and floods in parts of coastal West Africa are expected to grow more severe as the climate continues to warm.

And deforestation may be making the situation even worse, according to new research.

A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that deforestation helps increase the frequency of afternoon storms in parts of coastal West Africa. The bigger the clear-cut area, the more the storms are enhanced.

That’s because forests help regulate the local climate, according to the authors of the study, led by Christopher Taylor of the U.K. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

In tropical areas, trees tend to have a cooling effect. When these forests are destroyed, the surrounding area warms up.What exactly that means for local rainfall patterns depends on the area.In some places, like the Amazon rainforest, studies have found that […]

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