NASA: Megadrought Lasting Decades Is 99% Certain in American Southwest
A study released in Science Advances Wednesday finds strong evidence for severe, long-term droughts afflicting the American Southwest, driven by climate change. A megadrought lasting decades is 99 percent certain to hit the region this century, said scientists from Cornell University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Historically, the Colorado emptied into the Gulf of California. Today, what little remains of the Colorado River when it reaches Mexico has been diverted to irrigate the farms of Mexicali Valley. The rest of the river exists mostly as a dry memory.ProPublica
"Historically, megadroughts were extremely rare phenomena occurring only once or twice per millennium," the report states. "According to our analysis of modeled responses to increased GHGs, these events could become commonplace if climate change goes unabated."
Rising temperatures will combine with decreased rainfall in the Southwest to create droughts that will be worse than the historic "Dust Bowl" of the 20th century and last far longer. The Dust Bowl lasted no longer than eight years, and affected 100 million acres around the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and adjacent lands in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Dust storms swept through large swaths of former farmland, depositing dust as far east as Chicago, New York and Washington. It is estimated that more than half a million people were made homeless, and some 3.5 million Dust Bowl refugees migrated west, in hopes of finding work.
Maps show risk of megadrought under different levels of global temperature rise.Science Advances
The megadrought study looked at conditions under a 2-degree Celsius level of global warming, 4 degrees and 6 degrees. With 4 degrees of warming, which is the rate the planet is currently heading for, megadroughts are almost a certainty. If the rise in global temperatures is kept to 2 degrees, which is the upper-limit goal of the Paris climate agreement, the risk of megadroughts is between 30 and 60 percent.
Currently, 62 percent of California—home to 39 million people—is under severe or worse drought conditions. The state is entering its sixth consecutive year of drought, with record-low levels of precipitation and snowpack. Moderate or worse drought covers 45 percent of Arizona and 37 percent of Nevada. The water level in many of California's lakes and reservoirs remains below historic averages.
California drought enters its 6th year https://t.co/hBssQk9D9r via @ClimateNexus @EcoWatch #climate #globalwarming… https://t.co/EKnKJzwfrz— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1475524861.0
Much of the Southwest relies on the Colorado River and its tributaries for some or all of its water. Beginning as a trickle seeping out of the ground above 10,000 feet, just west of the Continental Divide, the Colorado feeds critical farmland, public water supplies and helps generate hydroelectric power. Thirty to 40 million people rely on Colorado River water.
Historically, the Colorado emptied into the Gulf of California. Today, what little remains of the Colorado River when it reaches Mexico has been diverted to irrigate the farms of Mexicali Valley. The rest of the river exists mostly as a dry memory.
"The Colorado River is one of the most dammed and diverted rivers on the planet," said Gary Wockner, executive director of Save The Colorado, in an interview with EcoWatch. "In fact, every drop of its water, over 5 trillion gallons of water per year, is diverted out and the river no longer meets the Gulf of California."
California and the Southwest rely on the Colorado River for much of their water supply.Colorado River Water Users Association
Under the 4-degree scenario plotted by the study, all but the extreme southeast corner of California is at a 90 to 100 percent risk of megadrought. The Colorado River supplies 55 to 65 percent of water for Southern California. ProPublica reported last year that more people are entitled to Colorado River water than the river can supply—or has supplied, on average, for the past 110 years.
"Much of the water is lost, overused or wasted, stressing both the Colorado system, and trickling down to California, which depends on the Colorado for a big chunk of its own supply," ProPublica reported.
Colorado's Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone? - EcoWatch https://t.co/30e6rVgAyz— Norman Buffong (@Norman Buffong)1473343720.0
In California's San Joaquin Valley, over-pumping of groundwater for irrigation has caused the land to sink—in some places, as much as two to three feet. A NASA study, conducted last year, showed the extent of the problem.
One spot near the California Aqueduct sank eight inches in just four months. Toxic algal blooms have affected more than 40 lakes and waterways this year, the greatest number on record. A shift in electric power generation in the state away from dwindling hydropower sources to natural gas has cost Californians $2 billion and increased carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 10 percent.
Toxic algae blooms set historic records from coast to coast>>https://t.co/yjlKVN7uWt via @EcoWatch https://t.co/FkZFYuUb4W— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice)1475424002.0
"A megadrought occurring again in the Southwest in the coming decades would impose unprecedented stresses on water resources of the region, and recent studies have shown that they are far more likely to occur this century because of climate change compared to past centuries," stated the authors of the megadrought study. They call for a mix of adaptation policies, including reducing demand, greater water efficiency, and shifts to groundwater supplies, as well as further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
"The implications are that the river is already severely depleted and the reservoirs are at near historic lows and all the predictions are that it is going to get worse," said Wockner. "And so people who manage water supplies need to be managing for less water."
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.