Study: "Megadrought" The New Normal In The West

Jul 31, 2012

The drought that hit the West from 2000-2004 is not only the worst in 800 years, but it could be the new “normal”. That’s according to new research in the journal Nature Geoscience.

You’d have to go back to the middle ages to find a period as dry as 2000-2004 in the American West.

Snowpack decreased. Crop productivity in much of the west went down by 5-percent.

And that’s not the worst of it, the researchers say.

Grasses plants and trees suck up about 30-percent of our carbon dioxide emissions in North America. In the Northwest, that percentage is even higher.

"The forests do a pretty good job but in the drought year, that was reduced to about half because they were suffering from the drought so much," says Beverly Law, a professor of global change biology at Oregon State University.

She says drought compounds our carbon dioxide emissions problem:

More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more drought. And more drought means the trees and plants are less able to suck up our carbon dioxide emissions.

Law says that as we continue to depend on fossil fuels, things aren’t looking any better.

“This is what it could be like into the future and we can only handle so many large events that cause harm to people’s livelihoods, vegetation, animals – the things we rely on," Law adds. 

Climate models predict that 80 out of the next 95 years will be just as dry as the 2000-2004 drought period.