Study finds climate change makes California’s drought worse – Reuters


LOS ANGELES Aug 20 Climate change has
aggravated California’s devastating drought, causing between 8
and 27 percent of the dry conditions afflicting the nation’s
most populous state, a study released on Thursday has found.

The study, published this week in Geophysical Research
Letters, is the first paper to estimate how much climate change
has exacerbated the state’s drought by sending moisture from
plants and soils into the air, according to Columbia University,
where the lead author works.

Researchers examined monthly weather data, including
rainfall and temperatures, going back 114 years to isolate the
proportion of the drought they concluded was due to climate
change, as opposed to natural weather variations that have
heated up the state, according to Columbia University.

The paper estimated between 8 and 27 percent of the drought
is likely attributable to climate change, the university said.

But A. Park Williams, a Columbia research professor of
biology and paleo environment who was lead author of the paper,
said the most likely estimate is somewhere in the middle,
probably between 15 and 20 percent.

“A lot of people think that the amount of rain that falls
out of the sky is the only thing that matters,” Williams said in
a statement. “But warming changes the baseline amount of water
that’s available to us, because it sends water back into the
sky.”

In fact, the researchers did not find climate change altered
the amount of rainfall in California, which varies widely from
year to year.

Nevertheless, when rainfall declined in California in 2012,
moisture evaporated at an unusually intense rate from soil,
trees and crops, the study found.

While heavy rainfall will return to California, perhaps as
soon as this winter, the study said increased moisture
evaporation in the state will over the long run play a larger
role than the sporadic boon of precipitation.

The ongoing drought, now in its fourth year, will cost the
California economy about $2.7 billion in 2015, according to a
study released this week by economists at the University of
California, Davis.

Firefighters in California also are battling a fierce
wildfire season that officials say has turned wilder and more
dangerous because of bone-dry conditions from the drought.

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has said global
warming caused by human activity plays a significant role in the
drought and has challenged Republican presidential candidates to
discuss their plans on climate change.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric Beech)

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