California's record-breaking drought has caused the Sierra Nevada Mountains' snowpack to hit its lowest levels in the past 5 centuries, a new study reveals.
The California drought is heading to its record breaking fifth year and it has affected everything in the region from agriculture to hydropower generation to the lives of common people.
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The condition of snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains is another ominous sign of the severity of the drought. According to a latest study, this year Sierra Nevada Mountains’ snowpack has fallen to its lowest level in the past 5 centuries.
“Our study really points to the extreme character of the 2014-15 winter. This is not just unprecedented over 80 years – it’s unprecedented over 500 years.” Valerie Trouet, professor from University of Arizona and lead author of the study said.
To compare 2015 snowpack with the snowpack levels of previous years, Trouet and her colleagues analyzed tree-ring data from 1405 to 2005, reflecting annual winter precipitation in California and annual snowpack measurements since 1930.
Snowpack level is generally measured April 1 each year, a time when snow is at its peak. Snowpack at Sierra Nevada unusually has five feet of snow, but this year when snow was measured there was just a bare ground at the site, contributing to the water crises in California.
“Sierra Nevada snowpack plays a critical role in replenishing the state’s water reservoirs and provides 30 percent of its water supply,” study reads. “As a result, a multi-year and severe snowpack decline can actually impact human and natural systems, including urban and agricultural water supplies, hydroelectric power and wildfire risk.”
In a summer dry climate such as California, water is stored in winter and used in the summer when there is no precipitation. The lack of snow in 2015 on the Sierra Nevada Mountains is a result of extremely low winter precipitation combined with record high temperatures.
Snow continued to melt slowly in the warmer months of the year while less than usual snow was accumulated in winter. Less snow in winter means there is a less water to use during California’s dry summer.
California drought began in 2012 and is one of the most severe droughts on record. But experts are expecting more droughts of such nature as temperatures continued to rise.
“We should be prepared for this type of drought to occur much more frequently because of rising temperatures,” said Trouet. “Anthropogenic warming is making the drought more severe.”
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The study was published in journal Nature Climate Change.