Travel to the U.S. just got a little hotter – literally. According to a study released Thursday, the American Southwest and central Great Plains will experience extensive droughts during the second half of this century, in an event scientists refer to as “megadroughts.”
The drying will be even more severe than previously predicted – worse than anything in the past 1,000 years, due largely to the effects of climate change.
According to Toby Ault, an atmospheric scientist at Cornell University, if climate change continues at this rate, there’s at least an 80% chance of a megadrought in these regions, similar (or worse) to the ones that affected parts of the West during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Benjamin Cook, the leader author of the study and a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, explained the significance of the results, which are now published online in Science Advances and released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. According to Cook, “natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historical lasted maybe a decade or a little less.” Given the current climate situation, scientist can only predict “how exceptional future droughts will be.”
Cook, along with a team of researchers and scientists, came to this conclusion by studying tree-rings, which allowed them to determine the amount of rain that fell over hundreds of years ago. That data was then used in combination with 17 different computer projections of 21st century climate – including drought records of the past millennium.
The results revealed a consist period of drying in the Plains and Southwest, largely due to warmer temperature and reduced levels of precipitation, which have worked in conjunction with one another to dry out the soil.
Although at the moment, scientists are uncertain of when the drought will begin, Cook warns the public of the impending threat, “We have strategies today to deal with drought – develop more drought-resistant crops, use more ground water…but if future droughts will be much more severe, the question is whether we can extend those strategies or if we need new ones.