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‘Permanent drought’ researcher suggests water managers shouldn’t wait for perfect science


Drought by numbers... Good farmland opening up toward the pole.


Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Richard Seager is sort of the Don of horrendous drought predictions for the Western United States.

A Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades NY, Seager’s research has been cited in numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers since he first advanced the theory in 2006 that the Southwestern United States and Central America will soon be entering a state of “permanent drought” — if they haven’t already.

What is permanent drought? It’s pretty much just like it sounds.

When I ask (with serious journalistic intonation, I might add) how long a permanent drought would last, he answers simply: “It would just become the new climate.” Duh.

Seager’s team utilized 24 climate models (“the best and the worst”) from around the world to reach their findings. All of the models suggest the same thing. And since the modeling doesn’t rely on highly uncertain elements, such as cantankerous cloud feedbacks, he says the theory enjoys a high degree of certainty, he tells me during a phone interview this afternoon.

For Texas over the next few decades this means a decline by about three inches of rain per year … forever.

I called Seager because I wanted to build on what University of Oregon professor Peter Clark told me earlier this week on the topic.

Come listen in:




In my Clark interview post, I shared the latest from the climate front, the idea that our coast is in for serious rearranging. (You can see maps of what the now-projected meter of sea-level rise looks like.)

Today, I’m getting schooled in what apparently is an unavoidable shift in our weather patterns here in South Texas.

While Seager couldn’t say definitely whether or not we are already seeing the beginning of Global Warming-inspired drought (he’ll have that research ready for us in a few months), he did suggest water utility managers get on the stick.

“It’ll be 10 years before science is good enough for water managers,” he said. “But, that’s no reason to do nothing.”

As the San Antonio Water System wisely begins to look at construction of a desalination plant to meet the region’s future water needs are they considering powering it — as they do in the Canary Islands — with solar or wind?

I’m waiting on my call back…

Posted by gharman on 3/19/2009 5:49:17 PM
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