California and the southwest of North America (SWNA) is no stranger to droughts, but scientists warn it could be braced for the worst drought scientists have ever experienced. By analysing precipitation levels since the turn of the current century and cross-referencing them with soil moisture levels recorded by tree rings over the last 1,200 years, researchers said California could be in for the worst drought in recorded history.
Columbia University experts stated that precipitation levels since 2000 match up with megadroughts throughout history.
The situation is so severe that experts are no longer looking at predictions for the future but where the climate is right now.
Bioclimatologist Park Williams of Columbia University said: “Earlier studies were largely model projections of the future.
“We’re no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now.
“We now have enough observations of current drought and tree-ring records of past drought to say that we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts.”
The researchers analysed thousands of trees to determine soil moisture levels back to 800 BCE.
Four megadroughts were particularly severe, the researchers said, with the most recent coming from 2000 to 2018, which could yet be continuing.
According to the study published in the journal Science, human-induced climate change is responsible for at least half of the pace of the drought.
As a result, the researchers warn that even if the incoming megadrought is not the worst, it most certainly will get more severe in the future.
The research stated: “With the western United States and northern Mexico suffering an ever-lengthening string of dry years starting in 2000, scientists have been warning for some time that climate change may be pushing the region toward an extreme long-term drought worse than any in recorded history.
“A new study says the time has arrived: a megadrought as bad or worse than anything even from known prehistory is very likely in progress, and warming climate is playing a key role.
Environmental scientist Benjamin Cook, from Columbia University, said: “It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever.
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“What matters is that it has been made much worse than it would have been because of climate change.
“The 20th century gave us an overly optimistic view of how much water is potentially available.
“It goes to show that studies like this are not just about ancient history. They’re about problems that are already here.”
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