Photo: Oxfam East Africa


U.S. President Donald J. Trump may disparage the idea of global warming all he wants, but while climate change and the submersion of the likes of London and New York (along with large swathes of islands in the Pacific) as a result of rising tides are serious grounds for concern, there is yet another potential consequence of rising temperatures that has, to a large extent, been overlooked.

If the glaciers in Greenland and other Nordic countries continue to melt into the Arctic Ocean, they will have a domino effect on major ocean currents which, in turn, could lead to a worse famine in Africa than we are currently witnessing.

(And we are already confronting a four-nation food shortage in Africa that, according to United Nations Humanitarian Director Stephen O’Brien, could engulf as many as 20 million people this year.)

According to a study released in June by the U.S.-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), the official journal of the nonprofit, nongovernmental research organization, should the influx into the oceans of fresh water from melting glaciers continue at the current rate, Africa’s fertile Sahel – one of that continent’s most important breadbaskets, stretching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east – could face a major drought far worse than those it suffered in the 1970s and 1980s, forcing millions more people to migrate away from the area.

The Sahel region – where agriculture has always been the most important sector and the principle source of livelihood for the majority of the people – has already begun to feel the consequences of decreased rains.

The ongoing and devastating desertification of the fragile ecological zone is making it unable to sustain its growing population.

And, now, as thousands of tons of melted glacier waters pour into the seas, the world’s ocean currents are being disrupted, including the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC),which functions as a sort of massive sub-oceanic conveyer belt, carrying warm equatorial waters to the Artic and cooler waters back south.

This continual deep-ocean circulation helps to regulate climates and temperatures all along the Atlantic, including in the fragile Sahel.

According to the PNAS report, scientists are convinced that the incursion of fresh water from melted glaciers into the Atlantic could potentially slow the AMOC’s circulation, leading to a reduction in temperature transfers and an altercation of atmospheric weather patterns worldwide.

In Africa’s Sahel, that would translate into a hotter climate and less rain, a deadly combination for a region already struggling with sub-Saharan temperatures.

The PNAS study said that even a meter rise in sea levels would decrease precipitation in the Sahel by as much as 30 percent between the years 2030 and 2060.

And the sheer footage of cultivatable land in the Sahel would also shrink during that period by as much as 400,000 square miles.

For the farming and ranching people of the Sahel, it is not a pretty scenario, and for Europe and the United States – which would have to absorb the brunt of the masses of migrating populations, it is not an attractive picture either.

One thing is certain: Climate change is real and its consequences are global.

What happens in Greenland can have repercussions in Africa.

And if the melting of the glaciers in the Arctic does slow the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the unprecedented migration of 60 million political and economic refugees and asylum seekers in 2016 – which constituted the worst crisis of displaced people since the Second World War – is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at


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