California's Drought of the Future: A Prospective Look at the 2012-2017 Drought

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - 08:45
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California's recent 2012-2016 record-breaking drought was an event with extensive social, political, and economic repercussions. The impacts were clear and deleterious for water management, groundwater sustainability, rural communities, and ecosystem maintenance. It further exposed the vulnerability of the state to prolonged dry conditions. Although many important lessons were taken from this drought period, it is clear that climate change will only exacerbate future droughts. To better understand the character of future drought in California, we employ the pseudo-global warming method in conjunction with a regional climate model to assess the historical drought retrospectively and prospectively; that is, as it occurred historically, and if similar dynamical conditions to the historical period were to arise 30 years later (2042-2046) under a business-as-usual climate change forcing. The simulated historical and future droughts are understood in terms of temperature, precipitation, snowpack, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and forest health. Overall, the impact of climate change on the drought is pronounced, with many more extreme heat days, record-low snowpack, increased soil drying, and record-high forest mortality. With these findings in mind, the datasets developed in this study provide a means to structure future drought planning around a drought scenario that is realistic and modeled after a memorable historical analogue.

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