The Sahara Desert and Sahel region in Africa could be transformed in the coming decades. Rising greenhouse gases are heightening concerns of climatologists over the potential for landscape altering rains.

Going back in time, scientists have found evidence of intense rainfall about 14,700 years ago and ending 5000 years ago. During that period, large levels of greenhouse gases were present in the environment. Dubbed the African Humid Period, this is the first time researchers have put a climate model to use, discovering what caused the rains.

Africa is a trainwreck on a good day, so any added pressures would put intense strain of the social and economic fabric of the society. By 2050, the area will be home to 40 percent of the world’s children. Flooding rains would wreak havoc on issues ranging from agriculture, water management and regional conflicts between nations.

Speaking to Businessweek, study author Bette Otto-Bliesner outlined the model. “The fact that the model gets it right and that we can explain it, that gives us confidence that the model can tell us about future patterns of rainfall in the region. It was the rise of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere that gave that region a common signal.”

For now, scientists are unsure of how much rain could fall and its impacts. During the African Humid Period, there wasn’t the population in harm’s way. Now, roads could be washed out and erosion could affect waterways and coastlines.

Scientists have already observed small changes. Vegetation is creeping into the Sahara region. Researchers have observed this on the ground, and using satellite measurements.

Whether or not you subscribe to climate change, the effects are coming one way or another. It will be our generation’s problem to deal with.

The study was published in the latest issue of Science.

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