A new study in the journal Science says that human-driven climate change is pushing the American West into a megadrought, and into its driest period in more than 400 years.
The research found that yes, we are in a cyclical pattern of dryness in the West. But it also found human-driven climate change has made it much worse.
"When you have these changes that are induced by humans, it took what would have been a regular drought within the normal range of variability, to an extreme megadrought," said study co-author Andrew Badger, a hydrological scientist with the Universities Space Research Association and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Researchers found that the period between 2000 to 2018 was the area's driest 19-year stretch since the late 1500s. And the megadrought period before that was more than 1000 years ago.
"This appears to be just the beginning of a more extreme trend toward megadrought as global warming continues," the study states.
In addition to hydrological and climate change modeling, researchers looked at thousands of tree rings to calculate past soil moisture levels.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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