Unabated, Climate Change May Lead to 1,000-Year Mega-Droughts in U.S.

So how far are we actually from the catastrophic regional conditions that climate scientists foresee in our carbon-heavy future? The question isn’t easily answerable, but the new data paints a picture that’s increasingly grim. A new study has found evidence of massive droughts in the U.S. Southwest that threaten the viability of the entire region. And the odds of it happening aren’t in our favor – unless of course you always bet on famine, in which case I’d double-down.

It looks as if the Southwestern United States has, in the past, seen mega-droughts lasting thousands of years, according to a study in the scientific journal Nature. The really scary part for Sun-Belters is the fact that the Earth’s mean annual temperature was close to what it is today. The science also finds that the past dry periods were significantly more extreme than the worst of American droughts, including the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a significant contributor to the calamity that was the Great Depression. That event may have just been a hiccup compared to these ancient conditions.

Dr. Fawcett, the climate scientist at the University of New Mexico Albuquerque, noted that if the warming continues the region could be on the verge of a drought lasting a thousand years or more. This potential problem is only exacerbated as the Southwest has seen some of the fastest population growth in the nation over the last decade. The Southwest has already been experiencing large reductions in rainfall over the last decade. Richard Seager, a climate researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY comments

The drying we expect for the first 21st century is entirely the result of increased greenhouse forcing. Any natural variations in orbital forcing and incoming sunlight will hardly have a noticeable role in the near future.

Climate models indicate that we should expect the problem to worsen. As global food prices have risen to record levels – partially attributable to the extreme weather evens of to the Russian summer heat wave of 2010, the Australian floods of December, and the current drought in China – there has never been more of a need for comprehensive energy policies that combat climate change. It’s the big ideas we need now more than ever.

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Photo: akasped, Flickr, CC

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