Friday, February 13, 2015

US Drought: Is It The Worst Ever?

                                            Comments due by Feb. 21, 2015
The Southwest and Central Plains regions of the United States could see the worst droughts to hit North America in 1,000 years, according to a new set of bleak projections from a group of climate scientists from NASA, Cornell University and Columbia University.
The findings also indicate that moderately reducing carbon emissions in the next 50 years is unlikely to hold off these periods, including at least one "megadrought" that could hit by the end of the century, according to the climate scientists. These arid periods will be drier, cover greater areas and last longer than anything we have experienced so far, and they could threaten not only natural ecosystems, but destroy the regions' agricultural sectors.
The work was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation and published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
The researchers developed several possible future scenarios that ranged from what they called the "business-as-usual" scenario, where atmospheric carbon levels continue to climb until the end of the century, to more moderately optimistic projections where carbon levels begin declining around 2050. They then compared their projections with evidence from past periods of climate change found in tree rings.
In every case, the projections indicated that big droughts will likely strike both the Central Plains region and the Southwest sometime in the next several decades.
"Even the scenarios that were fairly optimistic, in my opinion, will still bring about serious challenges for the Southwest and Great Plains," researcher Jason Smerdon told CNBC.
The results do not bode well for the agricultural future of the country—both regions are key producers of food, and persistent droughts in them would seriously limit food-production options.
Smerdon noted that serious droughts have already occurred in some areas—California's ongoing battle is the latest, but 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years across many Western states, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor data cited in a press release announcing the study. Groundwater supplies that typically provide relief during droughts have been depleted.
"These are troubling results regardless of what we do, but it is important to point out that these scenarios are based on choices we haven't made yet," Smerdon said. "So they are only projections—they are not commitments. But, there is a great urgency to those choices."


Anonymous said...

The new research predicting mega droughts for the southwestern United States is a problem that affects everyone in the U.S. Without normal rainfall, agriculture will decline at a rapid rate unless there are adequate groundwater resources. Unfortunately we are currently undergoing a drought in the southwest U.S. and we have already used up much of the groundwater resources. With less rainfall predicted for the future we can lose a lot of farmland that provides food not only for people living in the United States, but also for people living in other countries. The loss of farmland could take centuries to repair and will put a lot of strain on farmland throughout the rest of the country to produce. The droughts are directly related to climate change, so theoretically we can solve the problem by cutting emissions. The problem is that we are now transporting water to these western states which uses up large amounts of fossil fuels creating emissions. Therefore its a lose-lose situation. I think the drought can also be correlated to the population. In the states that are affected by the drought, there is a large number of people living off of a small amount of water. I believe that if a true effort is made to conserve water supplies and cut down on Carbon Dioxide emissions, then we can start to reverse the process of climate change while preserving our farmland.

-Frazer Winsted

Sulana Robinson said...

Yes, it is actually believable that this could be the worst drought. Even if we are to engage in methods to reduce carbon emissions etc, we still have a high chance of loosing natural ecosystems and agricultural sectors. Sure, the predicted damage could be greatly reduced if we ourselves reduce our use of emissions. However, another thing to keep in mind the current demand for water in an already very overpopulated world (continuing so). So yes, there are solutions. Solutions that should be highly considered and acted upon. Yet the proposed solutions can only solve so much of what consequences will come within this century. Either way, the outcome of our actions are somewhat unsuccessful.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to think about parts of the country experiencing drought while those of us living in the eastern part of the country are living under a blanket of snow that just keeps coming. But drought is a very serious problem that we often overlook until it is in our backyard. Droughts in the Midwest will have a direct impact on the rest of the country as, like the article mentioned, they are a large producer in the agricultural field. Without a supply of water for their crops, we could experience a serious food shortage across the country. Not only does drought impact agriculture, but an increased drought can lead to increased wildfires in the affected areas as well. This is serious news, as wildfires damage the land and forcibly suck oxygen out of the air around it. Droughts, wildfires, and other extreme weather effects are just the beginning, and we are already beginning to see these extreme weather events happening more frequently. If we don't do something soon, it might be too late to stop these weather events from progressing and getting even worse.

-Marrina Gallant

Joan Podolski said...

"These are troubling results regardless of what we do, but it is important to point out that these scenarios are based on choices we haven't made yet," Smerdon said. "So they are only projections—they are not commitments. But, there is a great urgency to those choices."

That quote is the most important out of the whole article. It is important that we all watch the carbon levels that are being produced into the atmosphere. These scientist say that because our carbon levels are so high, that we are going to experience the worst drought ever. I feel that majority of what we do is not going to matter anymore, sure we can help limit the things that we use, however as far as big corporations and other factors, that we are not going to change they way we produce goods. we can start to limit water supply and cut down on these carbon emissions, and hopefully it will start to reverse itself, however if only a quarter of the people are doing it, then it wont even itself out.

Chelsea Dow said...

Indeed one of the most crucial pieces of information to take away from the article is that of food security. Droughts affecting the Central Plains of the United States means a direct blow to the heartland of the countries agricultural systems. Concurrent with this, the southwest region of the country also will be affected, resulting in a decrease in agricultural surplus, as well as water supply. The consequences of further drought are devastating, persistent, and steadfast. I think that the current initiatives to promote small scale organic farming could indeed help to alleviate the future drought issues the country faces. Furthermore, hydroponic facilities may also come into play once water runs scarce. With hydroponics, the water supply is recycled, and with less dependence on water a drought stricken country could still grow crops and stray from outsourcing produce. As the article stated however, the answers must come from decreasing carbon outputs as well. If countries continue to consume and produce products that lead to the release of carbon into the atmosphere, the climate will be forever changing in an anthropogenic fashion. If we don't act now, the future of the worlds water supply not only means damage to the US and their agricultural systems, but eventual damage to all of Earth's ecosystems and resources.

Anonymous said...

I believe that what the scientists predict will most likely happen is simply a reflection of many other environmentally based problems caused/experienced by the United States. It is as with resource we exploit-if we use too much of it we will run out. Up until this point we have been using the soil and land in central and western America as a resource to support our growing population's need for food. However, if agriculture continue's to grow the way it has been, the won't be any nutrients left in the soil to support life, nor enough topsoil for plants to grow. I think it is perfectly unsurprising that we should be expecting a crash. The scientists' predictions are also a reflection of the problem of global climate change. As climate's rise in parts of the world which are already generally dry and arid, we should expect the environment to change as well as an impression of the climate.
-Rachael Pepper

Anonymous said...

It is shocking but not altogether terrifying that we will have a mega-drought in the next several decades. To read that by reducing the carbon footprint will not do anything to prevent this matter, simply hammers in the effect that we need to make a big change about how we handle ourselves in relation to the Earth.
It is obvious that the way that Western society creates food is hurting the Earth more than it is producing food for consumption, with a large percentage never making its way to people in the first place. Farming techniques and water distribution throughout the states will have to be regulated in relation to when droughts take place and how people react to them.
We need to act. If this means saving one gallon of rain for every hundred that fall, then we must. But to just let underwater reserves run dry will destroy the areas that those reserves are in.
This problem will not go away any time soon, but we have to play an active roll, we must as a nation begin the process of first finding out why we are experiencing such powerful droughts and then we must find out how we can prevent them from happening in the future.

Beverly Levine

Anonymous said...

The possibility of a massive drought occurring is yet another reason why we should reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. However, being that the southwestern part of the United States has been in a drought for a long time, I'm not sure if we are going to take this warning so seriously. Despite the fact that it will effect our ecosystems, farmland, and food production, I have a feeling that business-as-usual will continue for longer than it should. We need to start conserving water and energy, reducing emissions, and our overall consumption. Climate change is an endeavor that needs to be tackled from all fronts. To protect ourselves and the environment, business-as-usual cannot continue.
-Emma Weis

Anonymous said...

I know that the article mentioned the 'fairly optimistic' data about decreasing CO2 emmissions, and as much as I would love to hope that those decreasing emissions will be in our future, I just can't. It's almost like they're doctors giving us, the patients, false hope about our illness: "things could get better." Just because things could get better, doesn't always mean they will. Part of me wouldn't be surprised at all if things came to us having another dust bowl, or that "megadrought" the author mentioned in the article, which, of course, will take us years to recover from.

-E. Piper Phillips

Anonymous said...

Drought is overlooked, due to the fact that we live in the North eastern part of the U.S. Just because the droughts are happening in the southwestern area doesn't mean that it isn't negatively effecting anything else. Bad part about the situation is tat no one knows if the drought will be for a short amount of time or if it will end up being longterm. Th droughts are most certainly connected to climate change. Which if this continues could cause a great loss in farm lands and a dip in agricultural business. If the drought continues and the farmlands and work fields don't begin to make a recovery the food supply may become the biggest issue among the people.

-Katherine Murphy

Chrissy Cranwell said...

Droughts are not a surprise to that part of the region mainly because of the consistent heat. However, the prediction that these droughts can become even worse is something to be seriously concerned about. If I do recall right, I remember hearing in class that we provide a good amount of food to other nations (one of the main suppliers? I'm not sure). If this fact is correct that can also mean that we will see a rise in famine world-wide. We will feed ourselves before other countries though so we won't feel the it that much but, that means a rise in food prices for the everyday American consumer (which are pretty high as it is). Another concern I see as a result of drought is how bad the Western wildfires will get. We struggle to come up with efficient methods to stop them now and it will only become much worse. I don't a way to stop this dreary future but, I do see ways that we can reduce the severity. We have been making great progress in water refineries and developing methods to extract water from our wastes (which is kind of gross to think about but, hey it's water)it will help us in the long run.

Michael Giordano said...

The fact that research has possibly shown that even with the best carbon reduction outlook, today's droughts in the U.S. wouldn't get any better. That fact or speculation is quite alarming. Considering that people depend extremely heavily on food to survive, these extended droughts or mega droughts would put a lot of pressure of farmers and would cost the U.S. economy millions if not billions. These drought conditions need to be focused on and solved through the help of government regulations and local officials/citizens. There needs to be an large education effort to help farmers learn about conservation of water and environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

Victoria said...

Victoria viguera

Personally I feel certain measures need to to take sooner than later in order to prevent or help the drought dilemma. There should already be plans in place if the worst happens, which is a shortage of food, and a current plan in efforts to fix the problem. This issue does not only affect the U.S. food supply but, the jobs in agriculture that people depend on for living experiences.

Anonymous said...

this is another example of why simply reducing is not sufficient enough for the planet, we need to completely stop our carbon emotions before it is to late (it may already be!) This should be a huge wakeup call about how we manage our food and how much this can affect everyone, a drought in one place means higher food prices in others. Our food systems are completely unsustainable and we need to change everything about them. "These are troubling results regardless of what we do, but it is important to point out that these scenarios are based on choices we haven't made yet," Smerdon said. "So they are only projections—they are not commitments. But, there is a great urgency to those choices." clearly we need to make a change

nick stanton

Kobe Yank-Jacobs said...

I think the fact that droughts will continue to occur there is an imminent fact. Optimistic projections about lowering carbon emissions are both sensible and reasonable. But, we must remember that is not a political reality, and hasn't been since the 2009 cap-and-trade bill. Even if we do overcome the political obstacles the U.S. and EU are not enough. China must develop more a stringent plan than their initial commitment in November 2014 (which was a good start) and India, who doesn't seem to be peaking until the mid-2040's at least, needs to come up with a plan for more sustainable growth. That is the true beast of this problem. Fighting the changing climate makes the entire world inter-dependent. What happens in China affects the U.S. Southwest. Ronald Reagan once had a famous line about how quickly the world would unite and put aside their difference if we were facing a common enemy like a space attack. Well, despite the fact that this enemy isn't a concrete enemy with weapons and is merely ourselves, we don't seem to be uniting nearly quick enough to fight it. I'm from Southern California, where the drought is a serious threat to many people's lifestyles. Considering the above, that these serious droughts are imminent, you would think Californians would be doing more to conserve water. Nonetheless, many people I know don't seem to be interested in reducing water consumption. They are only interested in the drought as a social conversation topic. I think the first course of action that we can reasonably take without political barriers is to educate people on smart water consumption.

Michael Tierney said...

If NASA can claim that there will be these nasty droughts that will last very long, then people need to listen. They claim that cutting back on carbon emissions wont stop what is coming, but it will help us in the future by preventing future problems. These droughts will be bad, but we need to do everything we can to both prepare for the worst and to help out the future ahead of that. If the agricultural industry takes a really tough hit like say entire farms dried out and crops completely wilted, how are we going to replant ontop of those farms? im not sure that the land is going to be suitable enough to restore and im afraid that it could destroy our agricultural industry. I think that the actions that need to take place are for farmers to stop the monoculture and greatly increase some biodiversity. It could put proper nutrients back in the soil and save what we have. The farms are going to take a big hit and so is our entire nation since our food supplies rely so heavily on them. I think that we need to prepare for the worst of droughts but we also need to battle them in more ways then anyone has done yet. If people continue to live in the mindset of "business as usual" then we are going to be more screwed than what we could be if we made some changes now. our problem is that "business as usual" takes away things from the future that most don't understand. if we do not stop this there wont be a future to look ahead to.
---Mike Tierney

Anonymous said...

I wish this article provided more information about the negative effects of drought. The article states how 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years for California so drought has become almost commonplace. Just throwing around the word "drought" is clearly not enough to gain publicity and provoke a public response. I was recently in California visit family, and they were not affected the least by drought. In addition, the only sign to combat drought I saw was a piece of paper that read, "Turn off the sink after washing hands. Save California's water" in a restaurant bathroom. That being said, this is clearly as the entire globe is interconnected like one giant organism. The issues of drought can only be covered up by transporting food and water to drought stricken areas for so long. It is not efficient to do so and definitely not sustainable. Something needs to be done to treat the cause rather than the symptoms before we feel the adverse effects of drought and consequent energy waste from treating the symptoms. I'd like to see an article discussing solutions rather than discussing the existence of drought.

-Chris Magnemi

Anonymous said...

The inevitable mega droughts in the United States are going to create a strain on the food supply which will already be taxed by the increasing population. Plant survivability in dry climates and soils is now thought to be related to the salinity of the cell sap that allows plants to maintain a higher turgor pressure within cell walls. A dehydrated plant will reach a turgor loss point that causes leaves to wilt. Plants with lower turgor loss points will be able to survive longer as they are able to photosynthesize through a drought.

In 2012, the United States drought caused $18 billion of damage to corn, soybeans, and other key crops. Companies like Monsanto are working to create genetically modified crops that are able to withstand drought by changing characteristics like the turgor loss point. Still, all crops need water and there will be a demand beyond supply. Even in the most optimistic forecasts, severe changes are going to take place that will cause the social, economic, and political climate to change at an equal, although lagging, rate.

Nadya Hall

Anonymous said...

I think that in a way it is easy for people to not realize that this is a bad drought because those of us living on the East Coast can hardly ever even get dry. I think that we look at those little things and do not consider the world as a whole and what we can do to help improve our current situations. Droughts are a huge problem for agricultural reasons which can be very scary for everyone.

-Victoria Kusy

Marisa Flannery said...

It was unfortunate to read that these droughts will continue occurring even if we reduce carbon emissions. And that the effects (loss of farmland, etc) could take a lifetime to fix. Totally cutting out vehicles and things that emit carbon, are just not practical in today's world. Are there any actual solutions for this current problem? Maybe not, but reducing our carbon emissions can help for the even more distant future mega drought. In the long run, reducing our use of resources and machinery will have a positive affect on our environment. And from that point we can start completely cutting those things out which will, in turn, [hopefully] repair the damages that have been/are currently being done.