Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

The Link Between Climate Change and Drought

Climate
The Link Between Climate Change and Drought

What's the link between climate change and drought? Find out the key facts in this post.

Of all the ways climate change inflicts harm, drought is the one people worry about most, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And it's not surprising—droughts have been drier and lasting longer in recent years thanks in part to climate change. In 2012, the central and western U.S. was hit particularly hard when 81 percent of the country was living in abnormally dry conditions, causing $30 billion in damages and putting the health and safety of many Americans at risk.

Death Valley in the Mojave Desert in California. Photo credit: Pixabay

But droughts aren't only hitting the U.S. hard. Many regions in the Middle East, Asia and Africa are also experiencing higher air temperatures, drier air and more severe or frequent droughts. One recent NASA study revealed that a drought that's been affecting the eastern Mediterranean Levant region since 1998 is likely the worst in the past 900 years.

So what's the relationship between climate change and drought? What areas does drought affect most? What will happen if the planet keeps warming? In this post, we'll answer these tough questions and share key facts about climate change and drought.

What's the Link Between Climate Change and Drought?

While droughts can have different causes depending on the area of the world and other natural factors, the majority of scientists have started to link more intense droughts to climate change. That's because as more greenhouse gas emissions are released into the air, causing air temperatures to increase, more moisture evaporates from land and lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. Warmer temperatures also increase evaporation in plant soils, which affects plant life and can reduce rainfall even more. And when rainfall does come to drought-stricken areas, the drier soils it hits are less able to absorb the water, increasing the likelihood of flooding—a lose-lose situation.

What Are Some of the Major Impacts of Drought?

It goes without saying droughts can be detrimental to the environment. But droughts also have serious consequences for people's livelihoods, affecting everything from agriculture and water supply to transportation and health. Nearly 40 percent of the world—1.3 billion people—relies on agriculture as its main source of income. So if severe droughts lead water shortages in an area dependent on agriculture, it puts the health and wellbeing not only of animals and crops at risk, but of the farmers and communities that depend on them too. To get a sense of the scale of this threat in the U.S. alone, in 2012, the US Department of Agriculture declared a natural disaster in 2,245 counties because of severe droughts. That's a lot of people and a lot of communities living with drought.

Nor is the impact limited to farming communities. As increasing drought means some crops begin to yield less, food costs spike for the rest of us and threat of shortages begins to grow in some areas.

Then there are consequences you might not immediately think about—like greater wildfires. Thanks to rising temperatures, shorter winters and longer summers, western U.S. wildfire frequency has increased by 400 percent since 1970, Damaging wildfires have occurred in recent years in places like California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. That's because droughts dry out the land, killing plant life and creating tinderbox conditions. And, with less predictable rains, it's harder to stop these fires once they begin. These wildfires can leave communities and governments with millions of dollars in damages, not to mention the incalculable costs of lost plant, animal and even human life.

What Happens If the Planet Keeps Getting Warmer?

While scientists can't say with absolute certainty what will happen in specific regions as it relates to drought and climate change, the general consensus is clear: warming temperatures are likely to continue creating drier conditions over the next half century in some parts of the world, potentially reaching levels we haven't seen in some regions in modern times. In one recent study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, researchers predict large parts of the Western Hemisphere, Africa and Asia may be threatened the most.

What Can We Do?

If we want to prevent droughts from getting worse or more frequent, we need to stop climate change and preserve our water supply. Communities shouldn't have to live with the looming threat of wildfires, food shortages and lost income because of climate change exacerbated drought. Especially when the way forward is so clear.

If our leaders take the right steps to cut the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change and live up to the rest of their commitments in the Paris agreement, we can stay on the path to ending the crisis and help lessen the threat for longer and more dangerous droughts all around the world.

Ready to help make a difference for the future of our planet? Sign up here to get updates from the Climate Reality Project.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

The Dead Sea is Shrinking at Alarming Rate, a Record Low-Point for Earth

Drought Kills 66 Million Trees in California, Increasing Risk of Catastrophic Wildfires

Henny Penny Is Right: The Sky Is Falling

Obama Visits Yosemite, Warns of Risks From Climate Change

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Atlantic puffins courting at Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge in 2009. USFWS / Flickr

When Europeans first arrived in North America, Atlantic puffins were common on islands in the Gulf of Maine. But hunters killed many of the birds for food or for feathers to adorn ladies' hats. By the 1800s, the population in Maine had plummeted.

Read More Show Less
Rescue workers dig through the rubble following a gas explosion in Baltimore, Maryland on Aug. 10, 2020. J. Countess / Getty Images

A "major" natural gas explosion killed two people and seriously injured at least seven in Baltimore, Maryland Monday morning.

Read More Show Less
The recalled list includes red, yellow, white and sweet yellow onions, which may be tainted with salmonella. Pxhere

Nearly 900 people across the U.S. and Canada have been sickened by salmonella linked to onions distributed by Thomson International, the The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Methane flares at a fracking site near a home in Colorado on Oct. 25, 2014. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

In the coming days, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to use its power to roll back yet another Obama-era environmental protection meant to curb air pollution and slow the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Researchers on the ICESCAPE mission, funded by NASA, examine melt ponds and their surrounding ice in 2011 to see how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the biological and chemical makeup of the ocean. NASA / Flickr

By Alex Kirby

The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.

Read More Show Less
President Vladimir Putin is seen enjoying the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Russia's Health Ministry has given regulatory approval for the world's first COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A John Deere agricultural tractor sits under a collapsed building following a derecho storm on Aug. 10, 2020 near Franklin Grove, Illinois. Daniel Acker / Getty Images

A powerful series of thunderstorms roared across the Midwest on Monday, downing trees, damaging structures and knocking out power to more than a million people.

Read More Show Less