Tuesday 27th September 2016                 Change text size:

Climate change worsening California drought



Photo: Jonathan Lidbeck via Flickr

Manmade climate change is exacerbating California’s devastating drought, scientists have said, as at least 80% of the state suffers under extreme drought conditions.

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In a new study, researchers from Stanford University are hesitant to fully blame the crisis on rising global temperatures. However, they say it is likely that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are worsening the drought, which has cost the parched state billions of dollars.

The study found that high pressure ridges, like the one that has persisted above the Pacific Ocean over recent winters, and diverting storms away from California, are more likely to form when concentrations of greenhouse gases are higher. 

This “ridiculously resilient ridge” – as it has been dubbed by the researchers – has rerouted rain and snow that would normally fall on the West Coast to Alaska and even the Arctic Circle.

Such extreme ridges, the study found, are three times more likely to occur today than in pre-industrial times. 

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” said Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh.

“This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.” 

While climate scientists are united in saying that it is near impossible to link individual weather events to long term trends, numerous studies have suggested that climate change will increase the risks of more devastating droughts.

One recent paper concluded that southwestern states – including California – are likely to experience an unprecedented 30-year megadrought this century.

Photo: Jonathan Lidbeck via Flickr

Further reading:

Southwestern US ‘20-50% likely’ to suffer megadrought this century

California drought: policymakers agree to tackle climate change to end extreme drought

$6 billion water bond promised by governor to rescue California from drought

Half of world could face extreme water scarcity by 2095

80% of California in ‘extreme drought’, scientists warn


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