Worst drought in 800 years? Yes, the North American 2000-2004 drought was that bad…

From the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

A new scientific study indicates the turn-of-the-century drought in the North American West was the worst of the last millennium—with major impacts to the carbon cycle and hints of even drier times ahead. 

The study, titled “Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America,” indicates that the major drought that struck western North America from 2000 to 2004 severely reduced carbon uptake and stressed the region’s water resources, with significant declines in river flows and crop yields. It was published on July 29 in Nature-Geoscience. NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer is a co-author on the study, along with Christopher Williams of Clark University. The study was led by Christopher Schwalm of Northern Arizona University (NAU). 

Researchers found that the turn-of-the-century drought was the most severe region-wide event of its kind since the last mega drought 800 years ago. “The turn-of-the-century drought may be the wetter end of a new climatology that would make the 21st century climate like mega-droughts of the last millennium,” said Schwalm. 

Under normal climate conditions North America absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere due to plant growth, offsetting to anthropogenic carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. “Our study shows the turn-of-the-century drought reduced plant uptake by half in western North America,” said Schaefer. 

The current drought that has currently engulfed country is as intense in the western United States as the turn of the century drought, but also includes large portions of the Midwest and Eastern United States. 

Climate models indicate drought conditions in the American West may be the new normal as the planet warms, expanding the region that is already chronically dry. “This will not only reduce carbon uptake,” says Schaefer, “but will also would trigger a whole host of significant water resource challenges in a region already subject to frequent water shortages.”

Note how the research (indirectly) blows the whole “more CO2 is good for plants!” argument out of the water (see emphasis)?

More CO2: more warming.

More warming: more drought.

More drought: less uptake by carbon sinks.

Positive feedback loops: fascinating.

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13 thoughts on “Worst drought in 800 years? Yes, the North American 2000-2004 drought was that bad…

  1. franbarlow says:

    Typo: “Amercian” {in titel}

  2. franbarlow says:

    oops: Skitts Law, mea culpa … {in title}

  3. catweazle666 says:

    No it wasn’t.

    Stop making stuff up.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Way to go with reflexive denial.

      Yes, I asked the NSIDC to make it up for this blog: such is the reach of my power.

      Feeeear me! Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear me!

    • Sammy Jankis says:

      No it wasn’t.

      Stop making stuff up.

      An absolutely devastating rebuttal. Have you submitted to Nature yet?

      • john byatt says:

        Wasting your time Sammy, Weazle is a troll and does not know enough to engage in debate,

        cop the 666 tag

      • Moth says:

        Cat did, but as we all know, there is an evil conspiracy within the scientific community to keep work of such calibre out of the mainstream literature. If Cat didn’t share such wisdom in comment thread, we would unfortunately miss the valuable critical review of the research paper in discussion.

  4. Eric Worrall says:

    As the NOAA Palmer Drought Index maps in the following link show, the current US drought is not as bad as the 1934 drought.

    Here is the current situation:

    And here is the NOAA link to the Palmer index map of June 1934:

    Set them up on two separate tabs, then flick between them. Even from a quick eyeball check, it is obvious that the 1934 drought was far worse.

    Yes, the current drought is severe, but suggesting the current drought is the worst in 800 years is indefensible nonsense.

  5. Eric Worrall says:

    Cugel, it would be interesting to know on what they based their assessment.

    For starters the 1930s drought was longer – according to this NASA article, it lasted around 9 years, as opposed to 4 (5?) years for the 2000 – 2004 drought.


    The 1934 peak was also worse than anything the 2000 – 2004 drought produced, as you can see from this 1930s NSIDC Palmer Map sequence.


    On the basis of the NSIDC Palmer Index maps, calling 2000 – 2004 “the worst drought in 800 years” seems a bit of a stretch.

  6. […] 2012/09/26: WtD: Worst drought in 800 years? Yes, the North American 2000-2004 drought was that bad&… […]

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