Looking ahead, it’s possible the U.S. Southwest will suffer persistent drought. The region has a history of drought. Global warming may increase this trend.
Edward Cook: Over the past thousand years in the West, there have been profound periods of drought lasting decades to a century or more. So we know that the natural climate system, independent of human activities, is capable of locking itself into long-term dry episodes.
That’s Edward Cook, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Cook reconstructed the Southwest’s past climate using tree ring records. Scientists can determine a dry or wet period by measuring the size and density of tree rings.
Edward Cook: So we can actually tie certain variability in the tree ring records, that indicate periods of drought happening, with changes in early culture.
Cook said that tree ring records link periods of severe drought with the disappearance of certain Native American civilizations. Today’s American cities are better insulated from the immediate impacts of drought, but a drier climate has major implications for regional water supplies
Edward Cook: That tells us something about the vulnerability in human systems.
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Director, Tree-Ring Laboratory
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.