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'Megadroughts' Could Devastate Southwest U.S. Within a Century

Feb 12, 2015

Droughts like the one California is experiencing are only going to get worse over the course of the century and could devastate some central and western parts of the U.S., according to a new NASA study.

Using data from 17 climate models, scientists were able to project that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, there is a significant risk of severe droughts in the Southwest and Central Plains between 2050 and 2100. Reductions in rainfall and increased temperatures will lead to drier soil, according to their models, causing "megadroughts," which could last between 30 and 35 years, according to the report published Thursday in the journal Science Advances. Typically, droughts last about 10 years. But if emissions continue to increase throughout the 21st century, there’s an 80% chance of "megadrought" events worse than any in the past 1,000 years, researchers said.

"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, a NASA climate scientist and lead author of the study in a statement. "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."

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