You wouldn't know it from looking around today, but the Sahara desert was once a lush, green wonderland of lakes, vegetation, and animals. And then poof, relatively speaking, it turned into the desert we know today. Researchers studying 30,000 years of dust sediment off the coast of Africa say the change occurred 5,000 years ago across North Africa over the course of one or two centuries, reports MIT News.
Prior to the change, which LiveScience calls "one of the planet's most dramatic climate shifts," the region had been green for about 6,000 years in what's known as the African Humid Period. “Our results point to surprisingly large changes in how much dust is coming out of Africa,” says an MIT scientist. “This gives us a baseline for looking further back in time, to interpret how big past climate swings were." (Read more Sahara stories.)