MI - But it's a dry heat: Climate change and the aridification of North America

Discussions of drought often center on the lack of precipitation. But among climate scientists, the focus is shifting to include the growing role that warming temperatures are playing as potent drivers of greater aridity and drought intensification.

Increasing aridity is already a clear trend across the western United States, where anthropogenic climate warming is contributing to declining river flows, drier soils, widespread tree death, stressed agricultural crops, catastrophic wildfires and protracted droughts, according to the authors of a Commentary article published online May 19 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

At the same time, human-caused warming is also driving increased aridity eastward across North America, with no end in sight, according to climate scientists Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Michigan and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University.

"The impact of warming on the West's river flows, soils, and forests is now unequivocal," write Overpeck, dean of the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, and Udall, senior water and climate scientist at Colorado State. "There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop."

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