In a report released February 1, 2015 in the Journal of Science Advances, researchers from NASA and Cornell and Columbia universities warned of a coming megadrought–drought severity outside the bounds of what’s thought to have occurred over the past 1,000–that will result in major water shortages and conditions that dry out vegetation, and will likely cause monster wildfires in southern Arizona and parts of California.
There is already broad agreement that the American Southwest and the Central Plains (a broad swathe of land from North Texas to the Dakotas) will dry as a consequence of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but this study shows clear and consistent evidence that after 2050, the Southwest and the Central Plains would likely shift to drier conditions that exceeded even the great drought epochs of the so-called “Medieval Climate Anomaly” in the 12th and 13th Centuries. As co-author Toby Ault from Cornell University asserts, “we’re talking about levels of risk of 80% of a 35-year-long drought by the end of the century, if climate change goes unmitigated.”
Many of us think about drought in terms of a lack of precipitation, but this study suggests that rising temperatures connected to climate change, and not necessarily a decrease in precipitation, will greatly increase the risks of drought . Co-author Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says to expect a surge of dryness he and his co-authors call “unprecedented.” Smerdon asserts “he story is pretty straightforward: The cause is increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.”
In other words, we’re screwed and we’re responsible.
This study is the clearest evidence yet that worsening drought in the West and Midwest will result in fundamental changes for tens of millions of people from San Francisco to Las Vegas, from Phoenix to Dallas, and from there to Des Moines. Peter Gleick, a hydroclimatologist at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, who was not involved in the research notes,
We cannot hope that losses in the Southwest will be made up in the Midwest, according to this study. There are degrees of screwed, and this paper suggests we’re falling off the cliff.