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Drought a Sign of the Future

Released: 2/5/2014 3:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
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Newswise — With most of the Western states dealing with a drought, two Cornell University experts comment on causes as well as what should be done.

Toby Ault, professor in Cornell’s department of earth and atmospheric sciences, is from Oregon and is an expert on climate patterns, specifically in the Southwest. He discusses how the risk for a megadrought has dramatically increased due to climate change.

Ault is also the lead researcher for a recently published paper (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00282.1) that found projected changes in global rainfall patterns will alter water supplies and ecosystems during the coming century.

Por favor dale nota que Toby Ault está disponible para ser entrevistado en español.

Ault says:

“Severe and prolonged droughts have occurred all over the west in the past: typically at a rate of one to two per century. We know this primarily from tree-ring records, which have recorded aridity during the last few millennia in that region.

“Climate change is expected to worsen drought in this region in the future for two reasons: First, hotter and drier conditions will mean greater water losses to evaporation; and second, changes in weather patterns are actually expected to deliver less moisture. So the U.S. Southwest really gets hit by a double whammy.

“My own research tries to put the two points above together to come up with quantitative estimates of prolonged drought risk in the U.S. Southwest and elsewhere for this century. What we have found is that the risk of such an event is about 45 percent in the context of the last 1,000 years, but is probably closer to 60 to 80 percent due to climate change. We have also found that the risk of even more prolonged periods of aridity – multidecadal megadroughts – is extremely non-negligible.

“All of this work is motivated by the hope that, by having quantitative estimates of risk, we can start doing a better job of building these kinds of estimates into our water resource management framework in this country and elsewhere.”

. . . .

Patrick Reed is a water management expert, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, and has served on numerous councils and committees regarding groundwater resources and sustainable water management solutions. He comments on the current drought situation and encourages all water management institutions to be proactive, not reactive, in water preservation.

Reed says:

“A key concern that the California drought highlights is that even our most advanced water management institutions are focused on the short term and forced to be reactive and not proactive when dealing with water scarcity.

“California is clearly an example where climate change, the economics of water demands, and our valuation of sustaining ecosystems are causing severe tension and likely increasingly frequent water conflicts.

“Water law in the U.S. is not well equipped at present for effective regional coordination and management of water resources in extreme water shortages.

“If the California drought does emerge as a multi-year megadrought, it will highlight the need for a national dialogue on the efficiency of our current water institutions and the difficult task of clearly defining management strategies for transferring water to regions’ highest-value uses.”

For interviews contact:
Melissa Osgood
Office: 607-255-2059
Cell: 716-860-0587
mmo59@cornell.edu

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

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