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  • Ryan Wittler

The Western Megadrought Is the Worst in 1,200 Years

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A new study from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles has found that the megadrought plaguing the American West for the last two decades is the worst in at least 1,200 years, and human-caused climate change is making it worse.

Some highlights:

Using wood cores extracted from trees at around 1,600 sites from Montana to California to northern Mexico, the researchers compared the current megadrought to seven others between the 800s to 1500s that lasted between 23 and 30 years.

Using the growth rings in the cores, the researchers found the current megadrought is the most severe in the region since one in the late 1500s, and the worst 22-year stretch on record.

They also found the drought wouldn’t be as severe without global warming, estimating that 42% of the current drought’s severity is attributed to higher temperatures caused by greenhouse gases.

Getting real:

According to the researchers, the average temperature in the southwestern U.S. since 2000 has been 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average during the previous 50 years, compounding drought by evaporating moisture and decreasing water levels in streams and rivers.

It’s also likely to continue.

“We have a society that’s relying on there being the amount of water there was in the 1900s,” lead author Park Williams told NPR. “But now with the number of water molecules available to us declining, it really is time for us to get real about how much water there is for us to use.”

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