Although some regions in the west are weathering a significant dry spell, a new study out Thursday warns of more to come. Experts predict that a “mega-drought” will cause catastrophic conditions in those same areas if greenhouse emissions from man-made global warming are not reduced by the end of this century, according to an AGweb news report.
Jason Smerdon, a New York-based climate scientist from Columbia University, also a co-author of the grim report, says data shows that an extended, harsh drought, the worst seen in 1,000 years since record-keeping began, is forecast for Southwestern states. The weather will usher in dry air and create very high temperatures at the surface for as long as a decade.
“The bad news is, these past megadroughts — and we don’t use ‘mega-‘ lightly — when we compare the characteristics of those to the projections from future models, the future’s worse.”
The authors of the report, which appears in the journal Advances Science, believe the evidence is plentiful that humans are the driving force behind climate change, higher temperatures, reductions in species diversity, rising oceans, and extreme weather events.
And the drought study has another ominous prediction: even if greenhouse gases are reduced, dry conditions still threaten large swaths of terrain in the United States.
Smerdon said he and his peers studied tree-rings — typically used to determine age — and computer models. The compiled data revealed disturbing results centered on rising surface temperatures.
“What we really did in this paper was stitch the past together with the future model projections and say, ‘OK, we know this warming is happening, we know it’s been dry in the past, how do those two things compare?'”
Droughts of this magnitude can result in decreases in oil drilling and manufacturing because water is essential to industrialization. Other consequences of extended dry spells often lead to shortages in food supplies, which result in mass migration and overpopulation in some areas. Scientists believe mega-droughts in the past likely led to large mortality and migration in Southwest Indian tribes.
Nearly 70 million people in the Southern Plains and Southwest could be affected by a severe drought. States like California — which is in its fourth year of reduced precipitation — experienced a month without rain last month, the first time in 165 years.
The good news is that experts do not believe a severe drought will bring on mass migrations due to food shortages. However, rising temperatures are likely to be a byproduct of a decade-long drought. The bad news is that should these two events converge, a disturbing calamity could follow.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]