Western United States may be going through one of the worst droughts in it history, suggests a new research published in the journal Science.
The explanation is that a natural occurring megadrought that started in 2000 is currently taking place. However, whether this drought can be considered a megadrought and the effects of climate change are still being debated by scientists.
The paper was written by several experts on this field, most notably Dr. A. Park Williams from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory from Columbia University. Researchers from NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies also contributed.
According to the authors, a megadrought is defined as a natural drought that lasts over several decades, with certain peaks when the severity of the drought is greater than other droughts observed in the last two centuries.
By the standards that the researchers set, there have only been four megadroughts since the 9th century – late 800s, mid-1100s, 1200s and the late 1500s. A total of 40 qualifiable droughts occurred in the 12 centuries that they studied.
Researchers studied tree ring records to extrapolate the level of soil moisture. Other events such as fossil presence of aquatic plants, exodus of native civilizations and increased wildfire numbers were used to corroborate these findings.
The results that the researchers found suggest that this current drought is more serious than three of the four previous megadroughts, when compared for the first 18 year period. This can be seen from the chart above where the current drought is denoted by blue squares.
The near identical trajectory that the data from the previous 18 years shows with previous megadroughts give researches ample logic to believe that there is a megadrought taking place. Dr. Williams went on to say that it was “essentially tied” with the worst megadroughts in history.
Not all scientists agree with the concept of a megadrought. Some argue that 18 years is insufficient data to label the event as a megadrought. However, even those scientists do agree that water is becoming a more precious resource in these regions.
Whether climate change is worsening the drought or its side effects are also unclear. The researchers argue that while the drought itself is natural, climate change is accelerating the pace that the drought is taking place. More scientific research would be needed before reaching a conclusion on this notion.
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