California’s mega-drought is even worse than we thought. A new scientific study found that the Golden State has not been this dry in 500 years — since the 16th century. The last time drought conditions were this bad in California, Cortes was conquering the Aztecs, Shakespeare was writing prose and Luther was sparking the Reformation.
“The results were astonishing,” Valerie Trouet, one of the study’s authors, told The Washington Post. “We knew it was an all-time low over a historical period, but to see this as a low for the last 500 years, we didn’t expect that. There’s very little doubt about it.”
An associate professor at the University of Arizona, Trouet and her team analyzed blue oak rings from California’s Central Valley and wrote up the results in a paper for the scientific journal Nature. The size of rings in the blue oaks can show the amount of rain that fell in a year. The rings were narrower than they’ve been in half a millennium.
“We looked at the past 500 years,” Trouet said. “This is the most extreme.”
Snowpack – which supplies 30 percent of the state’s water — is at its lowest level in five centuries, the study found. Even worse: Groundwater is being depleted at a rapid pace. Levels of water in California’s reservoirs are nearing historic lows, too.
California’s current drought has lasted four years, and it could impact the nation’s food supply.
Although known primarily for its almonds and grapes, California grows a staggering amount of the nation’s produce. The state grows 94 percent of our fresh plums, 84 percent of our fresh peaches, 99 percent of our artichokes, 94 percent of our broccoli, 90 percent of our leaf lettuce, 83 percent of our Romaine lettuce, 83 percent of our fresh spinach, 67 percent of our carrots and about half of our asparagus. (Recommended: How California’s Drought Could Sever America’s Entire Food Supply.)
“It doesn’t mean [a major drought] won’t happen again for another 500 years,” Trouet said. “It’s likely that this will happen more often in the future because of the low amount of precipitation combined with higher temperatures makes it likely that they will occur together more often, causing droughts.”
The mega-drought could actually last as long as 30 years, according to a study by scientists at NASA and Columbia University. That drought would cover the entire Southwest and not just California.
Nor will El Nino, which is scheduled to return this fall, solve the problem, The National Weather Service (NWS) said. El Nino is a weather pattern in the Pacific that can greatly increase the amount of rain California gets.
“One season of above normal rain and snow is very unlikely to erase four years of drought,” Mike Halpert, the deputy director of the NWS Climate Prediction Center, told The Guardian. The NWS has determined that this year’s El Nino is one of the strongest on record.
Even if the drought ends, Trouet believes there will be more frequent droughts because temperatures in California are rising just as precipitation is decreasing.
Those who live in other areas of the country would be well-advised to grow a garden next year — and for years to come.
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