Drought Research, Global Coalition, Federal Initiatives Help Advance Climate Science

While the world continues to navigate the “new normal” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, another inevitable environmental concern that can cause droughts, among other challenges, is emerging.

But scientists say mitigation measures can still help reduce its severity and damages.

Notwithstanding the future levels of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change has “locked in an elevated risk of intense megadroughts” in the southwestern U.S., according to research led by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office.

The study, published Sept. 7 in Earth’s Future, indicates that the ongoing drought in the region for the past 20 years underscored the impact of dry conditions on people and the economy.

The effects of severe single-year droughts include the drained water resources, withered crops and fuel fires, resulting in economic losses.

Kate Marvel, co-author of the study, the findings also underscore that “there is never going to be a temperature threshold we exceed where mitigation is not going to have an impact or where it’s not going to matter.”

Researchers define megadroughts as “persistent multidecadal droughts.” For the study, researchers chose the 21-year megadrought from 2000 to 2020 and the single-year drought in 2002 as archetypes of intense droughts.

They found that there is at least a 50-percent chance that severe megadroughts will occur by the end of the century, even if there is low emission of greenhouse gases.

However, the study highlighted that “despite the apparent insensitivity of 21-year drought risk to mitigation measures, our results still demonstrate the value of climate change mitigation for reducing future drought severity and single-year extreme drought risk in the region.”

Marvel said that there is going to be a new normal, nevertheless.

“There’s going to have to be some adaptation to a drier regional climate. But the degree of that adaptation—how often these droughts happen, what happens to the drought risk—that’s basically under our control,” she added.

Based on comprehensive data from the Climate Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions, the oil and gas sectors’ combined emission may be around double, or one billion tons higher, than the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reports.

Global steel production accounted for 13.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions from 2015 to 2020 while the shipping and aviation industries emitted 11 billion tons.

Climate TRACE used artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to examine more than 59 trillion bytes of data gathered from over 300 satellites, 11,100 sensors and other sources of emission information worldwide.

“This unprecedented effort provides a significant step forward in emissions monitoring, transforming a system that has previously all too often relied on rough estimates, opaque methods and inaccessible reporting,” the emissions tracking coalition said Thursday.

On the federal side, NOAA monitors weather, climate and environmental factors through its meteorological satellite constellation while NASA has its own climate science initiatives such as “Libera,” a new tool the agency plans to deploy sometime in 2027 to measure solar radiation in space, Nature reported in May.

“Biden made clear that climate is a priority,” said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“There’s a clear role for NASA to play in that.”

Climate change will be the focal point of discussion at a Sept. 22 virtual forum hosted by the Potomac Officers Club. The event will feature Abdalati and other scientist leaders to provide insight and perspective into one of the most critical environmental issues facing our planet.

The “Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change in Industry, Government and Society” forum will be held on Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET. Register here.

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