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Texas faces ‘megadrought,’ Texas A&M climate expert warns

Texas faces ‘megadrought,’ Texas A&M climate expert warns

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A research team led by Texas A&M professor and Texas Center for Climate Studies director John Nielsen-Gammon has published a study warning Texas is due to become a more arid, dry climate with drought-like consequences.

The 57-page study was written by Nielsen-Gammon and 11 colleagues from universities and entities in Texas and Oklahoma. It was published June 29 in the Earth's Future, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Nielsen-Gammon is referenced in the article, saying that Texas is due to experience an extended period of drought called a “megadrought.” Though the state has experienced megadroughts several times before in the past thousand years, he said the next of these instances to strike will be worse than previously experienced.

Nielsen-Gammon explained that increasing temperatures can bring about drier conditions.

“There probably will be a bigger effect on water supplies than the likely rainfall changes we experience,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a ‘drought,’ because droughts are temporary things. What this is, is increased aridity because our climate is becoming drier. So, dry years become drier, and wet years become drier.”

Nielsen-Gammon said in a Texas A&M Today article that while Texas has seen a 10% increase in rainfall trends over the past century, hotter temperatures will cause any gains in precipitation to evaporate faster. He also pointed out that higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will be beneficial for growth in Texas plants, but subsequently cause the Lone Star State’s human population to compete with foliage for water sources.

While some climate change is typical over Earth’s history, he explained that the climate change rates seen in the modern era are excessively accelerated and could pose troubling consequences for the water supply. Additionally, plans that Texas state government members have created for drought mitigation through water conservation are outdated, Nielsen-Gammon noted, based on droughts that occurred decades in the past.

He stressed that it’s important for water stakeholders and policy makers to take into account the impacts of climate change when doing long-range planning. He conceded that even upon doing this, taking climate change into account still leaves water supply planning somewhat dubious, because circumstances for each aquifer are different, and information available from current climate models is not specific enough yet to plan with complete certainty. Large water suppliers might be able to hire researchers in making plans, but smaller companies will have a harder time making water supply plans, Nielsen-Gammon said.

He suggested that researchers might engage more with stakeholders and Texas policy makers in studies to provide answers useful in policy making, At the moment, Texans has access to standard models that regard surface and ground water, but there is not a standard method in allowing those models to use climate change information, he said.

“Conceivably there is certainly room in the state for a coordinated effort to provide climate model projections for local impact, so each entity doesn’t have to do it on their own, but can be part of a coordinated effort,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

The group of researchers Nielsen-Gammon works with have a National Science Foundation grant that allows them to continue their studies (which have been ongoing since 2016) through 2021. He said he hopes the team will be able to provide answers to the challenge their research has now posed.

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