Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains

Science Advances (1 Feb. 1 2015, v1 n1 e1400082; DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400082) / by Benjamin I. Cook, Toby R. Ault and Jason E. Smerdon
http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400082

[Washington Post] The long and severe drought in the U.S. Southwest pales in comparison with what’s coming: a “megadrought” that will grip that region and the central Plains later this century and probably stay there for decades, a new study says.

Thirty-five years from now, if the current pace of climate change continues unabated, those areas of the country will experience a weather shift that will linger for as long as three decades, according to the study, released Thursday…

[Scientific American]  Several independent studies in recent years have predicted that the American Southwest and central Great Plains will experience extensive droughts in the second half of this century, and that advancing climate change will exacerbate those droughts. But a new analysis released today says the drying will be even more extreme than previously predicted—the worst in nearly 1,000 years. Some time between 2050 and 2100, extended drought conditions in both regions will become more severe than the megadroughts of the 12th and 13th centuries. Tree rings and other evidence indicate that those medieval dry periods exceeded anything seen since, across the land we know today as the continental U.S.

The analysis “shows how exceptional future droughts will be,” says Benjamin Cook, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and lead author of the study. The work was published online today in the inaugural edition of Science Advances and was released simultaneously at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting here.

Cook and his colleagues reached their conclusion by comparing 17 different computer projections of 21st century climate with drought records of the past millennium, notably data in the North American Drought Atlas

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