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Droughts Expected to Worsen in 21st Century

OPB | July 31, 2012 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 11:49 p.m.

The droughts that continue to devastate the Midwest may be giving us a glimpse of what’s to come. A new study in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests that we can only expect droughts to worsen in the West in the coming century. Researchers looked at the impact of the drought years from 2000-2004 in the Western U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

In order to capture carbon through photosynthesis, plants use up water. If there’s a shortage of water, they can’t capture carbon from the atmosphere. The study found that during the 2000-2004 drought, plants captured half as much carbon from the atmosphere as they do in a normal year. All the carbon that wasn’t captured stayed in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Oregon State University professor and coauthor of the study Bev Law told us she expects things will only get worse. In fact, the 2000-2004 drought will seem wet in comparison with what’s to come, as droughts will likely increase in severity in the next century.

How did the drought between 2000 and 2004 affect you? How will you be affected if the West continues to get drier?


  • Bev Law: Professor of Global Change Biology at Oregon State University


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