Southwestern U.S. Becoming a Dust Bowl
Apr 5 (IPS) – The severe seven-year drought in the Southwestern United States is just the beginning of a new and even drier climate for the region due to climate change, scientists say.
The infamous “dust bowl” conditions of the 1930s will be the norm, with the possibility that the aridity will be unlike anything in the past, according to research published Thursday in Science — one day before the release of another key report by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, which also warns that drought-prone areas are likely to become even drier due to global warming.
According to Ming Fang Ting, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the Science study, the current drought in the U.S. Southwest is not part of the natural variability in climactic conditions.
“The causes of drought now, and in the future, are different with climate change,” Ting told IPS.
Using 19 computer climate models, researchers determined that the U.S. Southwest and parts of Northern Mexico are expected to become much drier. Unlike previous historical droughts that were caused by changes in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, the models reveal that climate change will dramatically increase the size of the sub-tropical dry zone around the planet.
These expanding dry zones will be unlike anything seen in the past 150 years and future droughts will be far worse than any since medieval times, the report says. The big difference compared to the past is that many more people are living in these areas, notes Ting.
Despite its water shortages, the Southwest region includes Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, which are among the fastest growing states in the U.S. Millions live in large cities such as Phoenix and Denver that are nowhere near rivers and exist only because of enormous water projects that dam rivers or pump deep aquifers and route water through canals and pipelines.
The city of Las Vegas, Nevada sits in a valley in the Mojave Desert. Its population has surged to upwards of 2.4 million, when only 25,000 people lived there 50 years ago. In the past five years alone, 330,000 people moved to the city, which has a huge legal gambling industry.
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