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MSU researchers find unprecedented drought imminent for several regions across the globe


New research from Michigan State University finds the world will experience more unprecedented droughts in the next 30 years.

The study was recently published in Nature Communications by MSU associate professor Yadu Pokhrel and a team of fellow researchers.

Pokhrel studies hydrology, water resources and climate change at MSU’s Department of Civic and Environmental Engineering. He and his colleagues used both hydrological and climate models to study drought intensity and between 1865 and 2100.

They focused on dozens of regions across the world to project when they would experience unprecedented droughts in the future.

Unprecedented droughts in the study were defined by droughts that have not occurred historically between 1865 and 2005.

“We found that unprecedented droughts that have never happened before, and lasted for five years at least, will happen far more frequently in the coming decades, and in many global regions, this will happen in the next 30 years,” Pokhrel said.

The team also looked at both high and low emission scenarios to see whether a change in greenhouse gas emissions would change outcomes for future projections.

Pokhrel said this is the first time researchers have estimated the time of first emergence using a large set of model simulations for both low and high emission scenarios.

In prior studies, he said researchers have estimated the time of emergence, which is the emergence of a drought signal, from variations in climate that naturally happens over time.

The time of first emergence, according to Pokhrel, considers the time at which the drought emerges as well as the consecutive period it lasts for, which in Pokhrel’s study is five years.

Based on those findings, Pokhrel said in some cases, no matter how extreme the action taken is to reduce emissions, it’s too late.

“We think if we start putting strict measures for climate mitigation then we can reduce the impact,'" he said. "But then in some places we have already passed that threshold, we have done enough already.”

Pokhrel said these regions include southwestern South America, Mediterranean Europe and Northern Africa. He said regardless of the inevitability of droughts, climate action is critical to reduce further harm.

He said it may be possible to delay inevitable droughts in other places, including the southern and southwestern regions of the U.S.

“If you choose to go with low emissions, then you can substantially delay these kinds of droughts, you can reduce the intensity of droughts, frequency of droughts…there’s a clear need to reduce emissions,” Pokhrel said.

Melorie Begay is the local producer and host of Morning Edition.
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