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As we expand our understanding of climate change, scientists have begun to focus on the growing role warming temperatures are playing as a potent driver of greater aridity–which is different than drought.
As NOAA describes it, drought is “a period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance”. Aridity is measured by comparing long-term average water supply (precipitation) to long-term average water demand (evapotranspiration)…aridity is permanent, while drought is temporary.
A recent study from the University of Michigan and Colorado State reveals that aridity is already a clear trend across the western United States and human-caused warming is also driving increased aridity eastward across North America, with no end in sight.
Why This Matters: As study co-author Jonathan Overpeck explained,
“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils, and forests is now unequivocal. There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”
Increasing aridity doesn’t just affect an isolated region, it has the ability to disrupt precipitation patterns and ecosystems in nearby regions as well. The threats climate change already poses are being compounded by aridity and the only way to slow this trend is to take drastic action on climate change.
Why is Increasing Aridity a Problem? Aridity drives water scarcity and can wreak havoc on soils and their ability to produce crops by altering soil bacteria.
As Phys explained, aridity in the Western United States is typically framed in terms of episodic drought.
Many water and land managers, as well as the general public, implicitly assume that when returning rains and snowfall break a long drought, arid conditions will also fade away. But that’s not the case if Western states.
Additionally, warmer air can hold more water vapor, and this thirsty air draws moisture from water bodies and land surfaces through evaporation and evapotranspiration—further drying soils, stressing plants and reducing streamflow.
But the atmosphere’s increased capacity to hold water vapor also boosts the potential for precipitation; rain and snow amounts are, in fact, rising in many regions of the United States outside the Southwest.
However, the frequency and intensity of dry spells and droughts are expected to increase across much of the continent in coming decades, even if average annual precipitation levels rise
But in the West specifically, warming is also contributing to widespread tree death and more severe wildfires.
Real Time: As Weather.com reported, despite a rainy April for Southern California, Northern California’s snowpack continues to thin while the ongoing drought worsens.
As the Biden administration is readying a reversal of the Trump policies loosening rules on auto emissions, many states have started tightening their laws to align with the California clean car standards. Case in point: the Virginia legislature last week passed a law that toughened its emissions standards.
Gas flaring was responsible for Texas’s recent increase in oil refinery pollution, but it’s hardly a new problem. We’re less than a decade away from the UN’s goal of Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, but refineries still flare 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year, releasing 400 million tons of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
Why This Matters: Companies have historically practiced gas flaring as a convenient and inexpensive way to “dispose of ” gas that was extracted alongside oil, as opposed to storing paying to store it.
Despite over four million Texans losing power during the recent deep freeze, oil refineries released an increased amount of pollution into the air. In a state that leads the nation in both power production and carbon emissions, experts say that failure to winterize power infrastructure resulted in harmful releases of toxic air pollution.
Why This Matters: Texas is the nation’s leading power producer, and to achieve this, the state has heavily deregulated not only its power grid but the fossil fuel industry as well.
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