“Megadroughts” Possible in the Southwest
According to a new report from Cornell University, the U.S. Southwest is at a greater risk for long-term drought than previously thought.
Although state-of-the-art climate models have projected a 50 percent chance of a decade-long drought in the region, new analyses that include hydroclimate fluctuations, tree-ring and river-flow data, increased evaporation and global warming suggest that the southern areas of Arizona and New Mexico have a 90 percent chance of experiencing decade-long droughts in this century. The data indicate a 20- to 50 percent risk of a 35-year drought in the Southwest and a 5- to 10 percent risk of a 50-year drought, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.
Although decade-long Southwestern droughts aren’t new phenomena, with one or two prolonged dry spells each century, the dry spells are expected to intensify as climate change creates more arid local climates and reduces runoff. Adapting to these challenges will require planning and preparation, as global rainfall patterns alter water supplies and ecosystems in semiarid regions.
NM’s Birds Threatened by Global Warming
A groundbreaking new study says that global warming threatens nearly half of the regularly occurring bird species in the continental United States and Canada with extinction, including many New Mexico birds: burrowing owl, black rosy finch, lesser prairie chicken, red-faced warbler, sandhill crane and the Western bluebird.
The study by National Audubon Society scientists was funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The scientists analyzed more than 40 years of historical North American climate data and millions of historical bird records. While some species will be able to adapt to shifting climates, many familiar and iconic species will not. Of 588 bird species examined, 314 are at risk. Of those, 126 are at risk of severe declines by 2050, and 188 species face the same fate by 2080.
Predicted changes in climate conditions, including rainfall, temperature and humidity—building blocks for ecosystems and species survival—may have catastrophic consequences. In New Mexico, many of the species of greatest concern are found in the state’s mountains, grasslands and riparian zones and, given the current threats to these ecosystems—drought, fire, energy development, overgrazing, to name a few—added pressures from an ever-warming climate could be the last straw.
“That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham. “Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds—and the rest of us—depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and us.”
Sandia National Labs Carbon Sequestration Research
Sandia National Laboratories has received a $5.6 million Department of Energy grant to study long-term geologic sequestration of carbon. The work involves storing captured carbon dioxide emissions underground to prevent them from being released into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. The research covers three particular areas: sustaining large storage rates over decades, increasing efficient use of pore space in reservoirs where carbon dioxide would be stored, and making sure it doesn’t leak from the reservoir.
The University of Texas, Austin, which is partnering with Sandia Labs on the project, is receiving $6.4 million from the DOE.
Green Building Code Challenge Defeated
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martínez has won a legal challenge over her repeal of green building standards implemented during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, which set higher requirements for energy efficiency. The state Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the state Construction Industries Commission.
A spokesman from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center said that it has not been decided whether the center will take the case to the state Supreme Court.