Researchers from the University of Arizona have found that the Southwest of America could be in store for a decade’s long drought during this century.
The researchers reviewed previous studies that set out to document the regions past temperatures and droughts, and found that any droughts that took place during the 20th century paled in comparison to those that took place in the previous two thousand years.
They then looked at when droughts coincided with warmer temperatures – like what is likely to occur over the next hundred years – to determine plausible worst-case scenarios for the future in an effort to help resource managers plan for just such a future.
“We’re not saying future droughts will be worse than what we see in the paleo record, but we are saying they could be as bad,” said lead author Connie A. Woodhouse, a UA associate professor of geography and regional development. “However, the effects of such a worst-case drought, were it to recur in the future, would be greatly intensified by even warmer temperatures.”
The western boundaries of North America are no strangers to drought and over the past two thousand years have suffered through several periods of severe and sustained drought. One such drought took place during the Medieval period and saw temperatures that were 1 degrees Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the long-term average. Comparably, temperatures since 1990 have been warner than that increased warming, and are expected to increase by at least another 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by 2100.