Report: Southwestern United States Experiencing “Megadrought”

Apparently, it's one of the most severe megadroughts on record

Mono Lake
California's Mono Lake in 2014.
Maryphillips1952/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / May 31, 2020 8:00 am

If you’ve followed reports on the environmental conditions of the southwestern United States over the last few years, you may have noticed a few things. There are wildfires aplenty, for one; images of dried-up lake beds abound, for another. When taken in isolation, each of these is alarming enough. But new research suggests that the larger picture might be even more alarming — a potentially devastating regional catastrophe.

Writing at The Guardian, Samuel Gilbert offers more information. Specifically, Gilbert delved into the results of a new study, which explores the full effect of these troubling events. The study, published in Science, suggests that the region is experiencing a “megadrought” — an event which has lasted for the past 20 years.

Researchers compared soil moisture records from 2000-2019 to other drought events from the past 1,200 years. They found that the current period is worse than all but one of five megadroughts identified in the record.

The study’s authors cite climate change as having been one of the causes of this situation — and the reason why this megadrought is among the worst of its kind. One of the study’s co-authors argues that 30% to 50% of that severity can be attributed to climate change.

“Droughts are these amazingly disruptive events,” said Columbia University’s Benjamin Cook, one of the study’s co-authors. “Water sits at the foundation of everything.” Their effects can result in everything from water rationing to fire tornados — creating a situation that can feel apocalyptic.

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