Eleanor Hildebrandt | February 25, 2022
The megadrought in the southwestern U.S. is the worst the country has seen in at least 1,200 years.
A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found the past two decades in the American Southwest have been the driest in well over a millennium. The researchers believe global warming has worsened the drought’s severity. One of the study’s authors and climate scientist at Columbia University Jason Smerdon said human-made climate change makes the drought more extreme because it causes a “thirstier” atmosphere that is able to pull more moisture from trees, vegetation, and soil. Smerdon called the development “a slow-motion train wreck.”
Temperatures in the Southwest in the 21st century have been almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average temperature from 1950 to 1999. The researchers used tree rings to estimate soil moisture conditions of past climates to compare to today’s.
Researchers found several significant megadroughts have occurred in the southwestern U.S. in the past 1,200 years. Some of the droughts have lasted up to 30 years. The team believes the area has not experience such dry conditions since the late 1500s, and not with such consistency since 800 A.D.