In February of this year, news agencies around the world reported on research conducted by a team made up of NASA, Cornell, and Columbia University scientists which studied past droughts and climate models in an effort to estimate future drought risk. The team analyzed a drought severity index and two soil moisture data sets from 17 climate models, the results of which indicated that making little to no change in our carbon emissions would result in an 80% chance that an extended drought will strike between 2050 and 2099. According to the study, which was published in the journal ‘Science Advances’, “…droughts in the Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years.” This potential “mega-drought” would result in significant loss of soil moisture that could span generations — up to ten times longer than a normal three-year drought. Ben Cook, lead author of the study and climate scientist at NASA warns that, “Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less. [Our] results are saying that we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”
These droughts are projected to hit the Southwest and the Midwest — two of the main food providers in the United States. The chronic water shortages that are anticipated in these regions would make both farming and ranching nearly impossible. California is already in the midst of its worst drought in over 1200 years, and we are currently experiencing the impact that this has had on the prices and availability of crops like almonds and avocados. As this image from last summer shows, it was the driest year yet in California’s continuing drought, with severity increasing at an alarming rate.
Continued water shortages in the American southwest — as well as other drought-prone areas around the world — have the potential to threaten food security everywhere. Next week we will examine how climate change could potentially impact the global food supply, as well as discuss some of the positive changes that we can make now to help create a more sustainable food future.
- “CA Drought: 2014.” Image. International Business Times-31 July 2014
- Fears, D. “A‘ Megadrought Will Grip U.S. in the Coming Decades, NASA Researchers Say.” The Washington Post-12 Feb 2015
- Nelson, et al. “Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation.” International Food Policy Research Institute- 2009
- Northon, K. “NASA Study Finds Carbon Emissions Could Dramatically Increase Risk of U.S. Megadroughts.” NASA.com-12 Feb 2015
- Nuccitelli, D. “NASA Climate Study Warns of Unprecedented North American Drought.” The Guardian-16 Feb 2015