The American Southwest may be headed for a “megadrought,” an arid period longer than any in recent memory. Under normal conditions, dry periods of several decades or more come once or twice in a millennium, but the changing climate has made the danger much more imminent.
Now, a new study has determined there is a 50 percent chance that a drought as long as 35 years will occur in the next century. And the chances of another decade-long drought are as high as 80 percent. In order to understand the conditions that lead to these rare multi-decade dry periods, researchers went into the field to study the traces that ancient weather patterns leave behind. “You go up into the mountains and these beautiful places where moisture limits growth to take samples,” Dr. Toby Ault, lead researcher of the study, tells Popular Science.