In the previous two decades, the American west has been subjected to the most extreme mega drought in at least 1,200 years, according to scientists. Human-caused climate change is cited as a major factor in the current devastating conditions in a recently released study, and the researchers predict that more drier decades lie ahead.
Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the study’s lead author, says, “Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the west has been dry for most of the last two decades.”
Human-caused global warming has played a significant role in raising the temperature. In other studies, researchers have found that the climate problem “will increasingly boost the likelihood of lengthy, widespread and severe mega droughts. This worst-case scenario already looks to be coming to pass,” according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
It expands on a previous study, also led by Williams, which found that the decade from 2000 to 2018 was the second driest in the past 12,000 years of record-keeping. However, 2021 – 2022’s record-breaking heat, dwindling reservoirs, and increase in dangerously unpredictable and uncontrollable fires were worse still.
Researchers from UCLA, NASA, and Columbia University studied soil moisture levels in landscapes stretching from Montana to northern Mexico and from the Pacific Ocean north to the Rocky Mountains. They looked at tree ring patterns to figure out how much moisture was in the soil over time. Stunted development patterns can be seen in the rings where they appear closer together.
Researchers discovered that mega droughts, which are extended periods of dryness lasting more than two decades, are woven into history. Water availability fluctuated across time, even before humans began using it for industrial purposes. The climate catastrophe, on the other hand, has exacerbated this variability. In the last 22 years, soil moisture deficiencies have doubled compared to the 1900s, according to their research. More than 40% of the rise in severity was caused by humans.
The researchers are concerned that the West is reaching a tipping point in its rising trajectory. It’s been shown in numerous studies that human-caused global warming and drought are linked, and that these climate calamities compound over time. Heat waves are expected to grow in size, intensity, and frequency in the coming years, according to a substantial body of research. This study, on the other hand, provides information that shows how quickly and steeply these changes are taking place in the context of history.
There are many experts and campaigners who think this will be a wake-up call to prepare for a future that is quickly becoming reality. Unsustainable systems are already showing signs of weakness. A declining water bank account, Williams explains, “means that our spending must be curtailed before the account goes dry.”