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Central United States’ “Mega-Droughts” Possible by 2100

Between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the American south-west and central plains suffered from mega-droughts that lasted between twenty to fifty years at a stretch and turned some of what would become the United States into a parched, arid landscape. Ben Cook, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warns we could be heading into another era of mega-droughts, a period made worse by changing climate conditions.

Cook’s study, published in the Science Advances journal, gathered information on these mega-droughts, known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, by measuring tree rings from the period. Tree rings are wider in wetter years, because abundant water encourages plant growth. During a drought, tree rings are narrower, as the tree uses available water simply to survive. As a result, tree rings provide one of the most accurate records of water availability over long periods of time.

Cook and his team applied their data to seventeen climate models, and came to the alarming conclusion that the Central United States is heading into another period of mega-—droughts which will make the 1930s “Dust Bowl” seem minor in comparison. Higher temperatures, low precipitation, and increased evaporation point to an eighty percent change of a fifty-year mega-drought occurring in the region by the end of the century, with colossal implications for industry, agriculture, and quality of life.

Water, already a precious resource, will become more and more valuable should Cook’s study prove accurate, but there is hope. A serious attempt to mitigate clime change could stave off, or entirely avoid, widespread drought conditions, if we act now.

As individuals, we can help by improving our water conversation practices. Showering instead of bathing, planting drought-resistant landscaping, and using water-conserving home filtration and softening systems can all help. At Pelican Water, we’re dedicated to producing the greenest and most water-efficient filtration systems on the market, so you can enjoy cleaner, tastier water while helping protect the environment.

Cook himself points out, the future isn’t entirely bleak—for tree rings to form trees have to be alive—the great mega-droughts of the Medieval Climate Anomaly obviously didn’t wipe out all the region’s plant life. Whether our current agricultural practices could survive decades-long droughts, however, is another issue.

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