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The Western US Might Be in the Midst of One the Worst Megadroughts in History

News National Parks
by Eben Diskin Apr 17, 2020

As if the current global pandemic wasn’t already enough to deal with, a new contentious study published in the journal Science on April 17, 2020, suggests that the American West is undergoing a megadrought. A megadrought is a naturally occurring multi-decade event with periods of high severity.

The study says that this particular megadrought actually began in the year 2000 and is made worse by climate change. The effects of this drought are said to be extremely severe, leading to shrinking water reservoirs and recurrent wildfire events.

When researchers compared the worst 19-year drought events in the past to soil moisture records from 2000-2018, they discovered that the current period is worse than three of the four megadroughts on record. The fourth, which went from 1575 to 1603, was the worst in human history, but the present drought isn’t much better.

Dr. Park Williams, from Columbia University in New York, said, “The first two decades of this drought look just like the first two decades of all of the megadroughts. In fact, it is essentially tied with the worst two decades of the worst of the megadroughts.”

Of the current drought, Dr. Williams blames the El Niño/La Niña weather phenomena

“We know from many lines of evidence,” he said, “that when you have La Niña type conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, then the southwestern US and northern Mexico get dry. And that’s what we’ve seen over the last two decades.”

Whether the current drought is actually a megadrought or not, researchers agree on one point: Water is an essential resource in this part of the world that should be carefully preserved, especially considering the impact of climate change.

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