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New Study Finds Areas Recovering From Drought May Never Fully Bounce Back

Aug 21, 2017

A new study published this month suggests that parts of the world recovering from droughts are taking longer and longer to bounce back.

"Time between drought events will likely become shorter than the time needed for land ecosystems to recover from them," says co-author Christopher Schwalm of Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, Massachusetts in a press release.

The study looks at droughts worldwide within the 20th century. The authors say as global temperatures rise the frequency of droughts are expected to increase and become more extreme. Joshua Fisher with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory co-authored the study published in the journal Nature. He says the places with the longest recovery times are in the tropics and in arctic systems.

“Because the recovery time is longer in these areas and because they’re getting hit by climate change impacts it is basically pointing to an expectation that these two regions are going to transform in our lifetime,” Fisher says.

He says if they don’t recover it could lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and tree die-off. Accompanying the study is a color coded world map of recovery times. The darker the color the longer the recovery. The illustration indicates that parts of the Sierra Nevada could take as long as a year to revive from a single drought.

“Those same types of pinks just along the Sierra Nevada’s are the same types of pinks in the arctic and the amazon,” Fisher says.

Even though the study didn’t solely look at the Sierra Nevada, Fisher says this research may help predict how areas like it may transform as our climate warms.

“Now we got a trifecta from the bottom up from people on the ground, firefighters seeing the trees die, connecting it to space with our satellites and ultimately connecting it to our ability to predict   that that would occur accurately,” says Fisher. “Now we can go forward into the future and say given that we were able to do it in the past we have more confidence that we’ll be able to understand what might happen in the future.”