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In Depth

Science
| 02/19/15

Dire drought warnings for southwest US

TCE

Scientists project an unprecedented drought lasting decades in the US southwest and central plains, sometime after 2050, dwarfing even the current drought that has been wreaking havoc in California. The projections from NASA and Cornell and Columbia university scientists found that if we don’t arrest climate change now (hint: the answer is reducing emissions) there is an 80 per cent chance of a so-called multi-decadal megadrought in the second half of the century that would be even more extreme than the largest droughts that occurred in the Medieval era. This isn’t a worst-case scenario: it’s based on current emissions and business as usual practices with respect to climate policy. Two other challenges the US southwest is now facing will probably not make future drought any easier to bear. Depleted groundwater reserves are already a big issue in the region, and higher projected temperatures will compound the problem, very probably taking it beyond the realm of historical experiences in the region. Adaptations will be costly and very challenging, not least because of the 100-million-plus people now living in the region.

It may not be drought, but BC will not escape the ravages of climate change either. The first installment of a new series on climate change in BC from Business in Vancouver (BIV) looks at the bills BC is racking up thanks to climate change. Since 2001, the mountain pine beetle infestation in BC has destroyed over 700 million m3 of merchantable timber. That wood has  a current wholesale value of about $150 CAD per m3. And it will cost close to $10 billion to increase the height of dykes on the Fraser River to combat the expected rise in sea level. Failure to meet that obligation risks progressive salinization of the fertile soil in the Fraser Delta. Moreover, $25 billion in real estate may be threatened, and spending on more robust infrastructure will be required. PICS Executive Director Tom Pedersen told BIV that wetter winters and drier summers are coming, with corresponding impacts on water use in farming regions like the Okanagan. Those will carry a price tag. This winter, rain instead of snow gave BC ski hills a glimpse into the future, with all of Vancouver’s popular North Shore resorts being forced to turn off the chairlifts, and profits taking a hit. But some effects on BC will be more insidious. Some of the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels dissolves into the sea, making carbonic acid that drives ocean acidification. That in turn impacts the ability of some species of plankton in the sea to grow their protective calcium skeletons which in turn has impacts on other species like British Columbia’s iconic salmon that feed on the plankton at sea. Such impacts offer an alarming example of the domino effect that climate change can impose on ecosystems.

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