More Dust Bowls on the way

Gaskill, M. 27 Nov 2012. Climate Change Threatens to Create a Second Dust Bowl. Rising temperatures, persistent drought, and depleted aquifers on the southern Great Plains could set the stage for a disaster similar to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, scientists say. Scientific American.

On October 17–18 drought conditions combined with high winds to create a large dust storm across Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming, closing major highways. This October’s dust storm, which followed preparation of fields for fall planting, could be just the beginning. “If the drought holds on for two or three more years, as droughts have in the past, we will have Dust Bowl conditions in the farming belt,” says Craig Cox, an agriculture and natural resources expert with the Environmental Working Group.

As of November 6, nearly 60% of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing persistent drought conditions, especially in the Great Plains—North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado—where drought is expected to persist or intensify in the foreseeable future.

Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University said “we’re seeing major shifts in places and times we can plant, the types of crops we can grow and the pests and diseases we’re dealing with.”

Since the 1940s agriculture on the semiarid southern Great Plains has relied on irrigation. On the high plains of Texas, tens of thousands of wells pumping from the 10-million-year-old Ogallala Aquifer have depleted it by 50 percent–most of the remaining reservoir will likely be useless for irrigation within about 30 years. At the same time, climate change has brought less rain as well as hotter temperatures that increase evaporation—forcing farmers to use even more water for irrigation. 

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