- Climate change is literally burning the water supply and forests of the Southwest.
- 95% of the western United States is experiencing drought conditions.
- The researchers calculated the intensity of past droughts by analyzing tree-ring patterns.
The intense drought that has crippled the western United States for the past 22 years is the region’s worst “mega-drought” since at least the year 800, according to a new study released Monday.
Mega-droughts, which are defined as intense droughts that last for decades or longer, have historically plagued western North America. Now, thanks in part to global warming, particularly fierce warming is back.
The study, published in the UK’s peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change on Monday, said more than 40% of current drought can be blamed on human-induced climate change.
“Climate change is shifting baseline conditions to a drier and progressively drier state in the West, which means the worst-case scenario is only getting worse,” said the study’s lead author, Park Williams, climate hydrologist at UCLA. “It fits perfectly with what people thought in the 1900s as a worst-case scenario. But today I think we have to prepare for even worse future conditions than that.
According to scientists, climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels leads to higher temperatures and increased evaporation into the air.
Thanks to the region’s high temperatures and low levels of rain and snow from summer 2020 to summer 2021, the current drought has surpassed the severity of a late 1500s mega-drought that had previously been identified as the driest drought in 1,200 years that scientists have studied. .
The researchers calculated the intensity of past droughts by analyzing tree-ring patterns, which provide information on soil moisture levels each year over long periods of time.
As of February 10, according to the US Drought Monitor, 95% of the western United States was experiencing drought conditions. And in the summer of 2021, according to the US Bureau of Reclamation, two of North America’s largest reservoirs – Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both on the Colorado River – reached their lowest recorded levels.
The study “is an important wake-up call,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of environment at the University of Michigan, who was not part of the study. “Climate change is literally burning the water supply and forests of the southwest, and it could get worse if we don’t stop climate change soon.”
Contributor: The Associated Press