It is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. On the gravel plains of the Namib desert, very low rainfall and the sun’s unrelenting radiation make it impossible for most life to survive. At 10am, the thermometer is already in the low 30s and climbing as researchers from the University of Pretoria set up their experiment. A heat haze steadily widens above the panoramic horizon. Any life that does exist in the Namib desert hinges on the availability of water and the fog that characterises the ecosystem. This makes it an ideal laboratory for scientists trying to understand how the smallest life — microbes — respond to water in their ecosystems. This is particularly important for southern Africa, where climate change is expected to wreak havoc with water availability. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the continent is likely to be the most vulnerable to climate change. "The prediction of climate change is that water events will intensify [release more w...

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