Monday, October 13, 2008

Parts of Oklahoma "abandoned" because of climate change

By John Sutter

A British research group released a report this week saying that parts of Oklahoma, Austrailia and rural China will be abandoned later this century because of water shortages associated with climate change.

The report, by Forum for the Future, lists Oklahoma as one of three places in the world where some land has been "more or less abandoned" because of the water shorages. It says people are moving to cities, where governments adapt to the situation using "novel infrastructure innovations" that provide water.

I found the story on the site for the Telegraph, a British newspaper. I'm not sure which parts of the state they're talking about, but I do know that the Oklahoma Panhandle experienced one of the worst droughts in its modern history this spring. Some farmers there told me conditions were more severe than in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Of course, the Dust Bowl covered a much larger area of the Great Plains, and lasted for a longer period of time. (See my former blog for a podcast with a 95-year-old farmer who was harvesting his wheat during the drought.)

Climate scientists in Oklahoma have said climate change likely will make droughts here longer and more severe. While they can make predictions like that in the long term, it's pretty much impossible to say that a specific drought -- like this one this year -- is directly tied to the warming climate.

Studies have shown that farmers in western Oklahoma are drawing down the Ogallala Aquifer by using deep wells to irrigate their crops. The wells keep getting deeper, and at these rates it's beleived that the groundwater source could run dry sometime this century.

A scientist speaking at a conference here in Virginia today (I'm writing this on a break) said that water is one of the more uncertain pieces of climate change models. Scientists are more certain about predicting future temperatures, but then they have to figure out how water bodies will react.

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