November 10, 2009
California Droughts When Planet Warms?

Why worry about earthquakes when we can worry about massive droughts instead?

California experienced centuries-long droughts in the past 20,000 years that coincided with the thawing of ice caps in the Arctic, according to a new study by UC Davis doctoral student Jessica Oster and geology professor Isabel Montañez.

The finding, which comes from analyzing stalagmites from Moaning Cavern in the central Sierra Nevada, was published online Nov. 5 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Global warming gets a lot of attention due to the prospects of huge low lying areas getting submerged. But big changes in regional climate - whether human caused or not - seem much more interesting to me. Such changes could occur at any time.

Ratios of elements in stalagmites provide some indication of changing levels of precipitation.

The sometimes spectacular mineral formations in caves such as Moaning Cavern and Black Chasm build up over centuries as water drips from the cave roof. Those drops of water pick up trace chemicals in their path through air, soil and rocks, and deposit the chemicals in the stalagmite.

"They're like tree rings made out of rock," Montañez said. "These are the only climate records of this type for California for this period when past global warming was occurring."

Cooling periods make California wetter.

At the end of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago, climate records from Greenland show a warm period called the Bolling-Allerod period. Oster and Montanez's results show that at the same time, California became much drier. Episodes of relative cooling in the Arctic records, including the Younger Dryas period 13,000 years ago, were accompanied by wetter periods in California.

During the Medieval Warm Period what is now the western United States had an epic drought from 900 to 1300 AD. Imagine such a drought started in the 21st century. How to prevent large areas from becoming mostly uninhabitable due to lack of water? Could we build enough nuclear power plants near oceans to desalinate and pump water a thousand miles inland? What would be the cost?

Alternatively, could windmills in oceans upwind of continents be used to pump more moisture into the air before winds blow over continents? Picture a future where nanotechnology makes manufacturing cheap. This could become an affordable way to bring water inland.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 November 10 11:06 PM  Climate Trends

JP Straley said at November 11, 2009 5:08 AM:

Solar vortex engine loads atmos moisture quickly to 1 - 2 km.

JP Straley

Bruce said at November 11, 2009 10:19 AM:

Randall, linking sea level rise with melting arctic ice caps is wrong. Even if the whole arctic ice cap melted, the oceans would rise maybe 4mm sinc eht eice is already floating in the ocean.

As for the antarctic, the last summer then had Dec 2008 - Feb 2009, it was the LOWEST melt in 30 years.

JAY said at November 11, 2009 11:47 AM:

Maybe we could divert river water to crops to head off the drought. Oh no, wait a minute, that's illegal in California.

th said at November 11, 2009 2:54 PM:

Depending on what happens this winter, the global temperature anomaly over the last 150 years have a real good shot at going negative, isn't it amazing what junk science with a complicit media cheered on by govt bureacrats all over the world can do to reality.

PacRim Jim said at November 11, 2009 3:31 PM:

Let's extrapolate nonlinearly: Nanotech-based desalination plants. Nanotech-based moisture recovery from the atmosphere. Cloud seeding. Etc., etc.
The past is not the future.

Randall Parker said at November 11, 2009 6:24 PM:


Weather warm enough to make the Arctic ice free will also cause Greenland's ice to melt. Big melts would cause sea level rises of many feet.


Huge amounts of water from the Sacramento river delta gets transported down to SoCal. Illegal? Not sure what you are talking about. The San Joaquin farmers already use a lot of that water.

Bruce said at November 11, 2009 8:10 PM:

Randall, the scare tactics (and that is what they are) linking arctic melting and sea level rises is dishonest. The story that you linked to fails to note that the Colorado data suggests sea level rise has stopped dead in 2006.

In real life, the rise may not even have been the predicted 3mm a year.

"According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Meteorology's National Tidal Centre, issued in June, there has been an average yearly increase of 1.9mm in the combined net rate of relative sea level at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, since the station was installed in 1991."

"In the past year, the Port Kembla gauge has recorded a sea-level rise of just 0.1mm"

You see, the sea has been rising since the last ice age. It is quite normal and most likely has NOTHING to do with man.

Trent Telenko said at November 13, 2009 2:46 PM:


The Mayan civilization collapsed and Anisazi were wiped out by the 900 to 1300 AD drought. If I recall correctly.

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