NASA Predicts 20-40 Year Megadroughts In US Because Of Man-Made Climate Change

Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains at the end of this century could be drier and longer compared to drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years, according to a new NASA study.

The study, published Feb 12 in the journal Science Advances, is based on projections from several climate models, including one sponsored by NASA. The research found the risk of severe droughts in those regions would increase if human-produced greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

Transcript of the NASA video

A new NASA study predicts that by the end of the 21st Century, the American Southwest and Great Plains are likely to experience longer and more severe droughts than at any other time in the last thousand years.

Cook: So recent droughts like the ongoing drought in California or in the Southwest, or even historical droughts like the dustbowl in the 1930s. These are naturally-occurring droughts that typically last several years or sometimes almost a decade. In our projections what we’re seeing is that with climate change, many of these types of droughts will likely last for 20, 30, sometimes even 40 years. Even exceeding the duration of the long-term intense mega-droughts that characterized the really arid time period known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly.

Narrator: So how can we peer into the planet’s future? Researchers combined natural harnessed the processing capabilities of powerful supercomputers. The scientists looked at a thousand years of tree ring data and compared those records with soil moisture data from 17 different climate models, in order to extend this information into the future. The models all show a drier world thanks to increased temperatures from human induced climate change.

Cook: These computer simulations, these climate models, really represent our best understand of the physics and the workings of the climate system. They’re tested extensively against observations, and at the end of the day if we want to investigate future climate, they’re really the only tool that we have to use.

Narrator: How bad these droughts are likely to get has a lot to do with how much greenhouse gas emissions humans generate in coming years. Scientists looked at two different possibilities. First, a “business as usual” scenario where world-wide greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current course. In this case the future risk of lengthy droughts rises to 80%. lternatively, if the world were to take aggressive actions to reduce emissions, the models still show drying, but the trends will be less severe. In either scenario, droughts could potentially have major impacts in a region already facing water management concerns.

Cook: These droughts really represent events that no in the history of the United States has ever had to deal with. And so even in the modern era droughts such as the ongoing droughts in California and the Southwest, these normal droughts act as major stresses on resources in the region, so we expect with these much longer droughts, it’s going to be even more impactful and cause even more problems for agriculture and ecosystems in the region.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

12 thoughts on “NASA Predicts 20-40 Year Megadroughts In US Because Of Man-Made Climate Change

  1. Who cares if we run out of water 60+ years from now, we are going to run out of oxygen sooner , our co2 levels are now are around 400ppm that means since I’ve been born I’ve been breathing dangerous amounts of co2 with every breath, air has been unsafe and toxic since 1978 , the one thing that will kill us all the fastest is not having air O2 to breath , humans can’t survive without food air water , the air we all share is the biggest danger to human life if we run out of oxygen ,co2now.org

  2. Naturally occurring climate change has caused past climate upheavals. The difference is that now we humans are currently speeding it up.

    Yes mega-droughts have existed many times before and for thousands of years, mega-droughts are even what pushed human evolution away from the jungle canopy. These were indeed caused without humans expelling greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

    This time around though we have the ability to take action whereas before we were helpless.

  3. yes a drought but not man made—nothing knew– the entire SW has been going through a slow drought for hundreds and hundreds of years , early conquistador explorers thought California was an island due to HUGE inland lakes, not a result of man these lakes have been slowly drying up since the end of the Pleistocene era (11,000BC well before the industrial revolution) to the present day many of them are completely gone like lake manly, lake manix , lake Bristol, lake Cahuilla, lake danby, lake searless, and further east the great salt lake is still shrinking

  4. 400ppm is not toxic, 600 ppm is not even toxic. Stop spreading lies. Pollution is a concern though…,.

  5. Go into your garage turn on your car with the door closed and breath the air for ten minutes then tell me if co2 is toxic or not mike ,

  6. Why not embed the original, instead of copying it and posting it as your own?

    It makes it look like you made this content.

  7. The only thing I dis like about the current understanding about “man made” climate change, is that it shouldn’t be called that at all. What it should be called is life made climate change. We are after all life, and this notion that we are extremely different is a misleading one. Life on this planet has changed the climate before, as well as the planet, and external factors. The human ego would have us think that we are some kind of important thing on this planet, but the fact is we are just part of the struggle for life, and life will go on way after we are extinct, or change into something else. There is nothing we are going to do to kill off all life on this planet, and as far as killing our selves off, in the scheme of life it is really not a big deal.
    Life will always find a way to carry on, much like it did when most of the planet was a ice ball. I suppose the concern is if people will make it, but it shouldn’t be much of a concern at all. Look at the data that shows more then likely we are all descended from a small number of Africans that survived a huge catastrophe some 70k years ago. There are billions of us now, and with billions of us the varied differences among us, and with our intelligence, chances are pretty good we will survive anything the climate can throw at us. Of course if not it really doesnt matter, because some life some where will be able to survive the huge change. Even if the planet because a dry rock, frozen rock kinda the same as dry, a fire ball, or even brakes into a billion pieces.

  8. Past climate changes have happened faster, and more powerful than anything man is doing. Such as when a huge asteroid hit the earth and killed the thunder lizards, or how about that one time when a planet smacked the earth, and ripped a lot of it off and created the moon. Those are the ones we know of, and our knowledge about the history of this planet is seriously lacking, there are such huge gaps in our knowledge of how the planet made it here, its like trying to say you have .0009% of a hard drive left, and your going to tell us everything that was on the hard drive.
    As for us being helpless at any time is a wrong statement. Our ancestors have survived stuff that most of us couldn’t even imagine, and I am not talking about our rat ancestors that lived with the thunder lizards. The mass extinctions of 70k years or so ago, were way worse than anything this is gonna do, we survived. No life is helpless, and for a human to try and say they can determine what is helpless and what isnt, in the vast scheme of life, is rather egotistical, and on par with saying we are the center of the universe.
    As far as our understanding of life goes, having the intelligence we do could be a serious flaw, and not important to lives goal of survival. It almost stands to reason that intelligence, is of almost no use in the scheme of life, and a bad evolution move, since as far as we can tell our extreme intelligence only happened this once. If extreme intelligence was of a huge importance, then it stands to reason it would of happened a lot. Such as the ability to move, eyes, mouths, teeth, back bones, exterior skeletons, and many more things that happened in the record countless times. Yet intelligence happened once. Of course you could argue that intelligence on par with ours or greater has happened in the past, except those creatures just didnt have the ability to use it, such as us with our fingers, but that is flawed in the fact that we got our brains, due to that. Dolphins for example have some small ability compared to us, in the intelligence department, but no where near us.
    Anyways what I am getting at is that it is hard to determine if we are better equipped now to deal with mass change, or were better off 70k years ago. Only time will tell…. Food for thought, in most cases when we tried to do something like as you suggest, change something, it always ends up worse. Example of that is, bringing rabbits to Australia. Also as far as life goes, we are extremely unimportant for its survival, just a tiny part, of a much lager scheme.