Hotter temperatures on our warming planet dry out soil and make conditions worse
A new study shows that while climate change isn’t responsible for the extended drought that has ravished parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, it is exacerbating its impact.
The primary cause of the drought is the weather phenomenon La Niña, which cools southern Pacific surface waters along the west coast of South America. The current La Niña is lingering much longer than normal and is now in its third year.
The region has experienced devastating drought since 2019, with Argentina suffering its driest year since 1960. This has compromised crucial waterways such as the Paraná River, which provides water to 40 million people. It also supports the livelihoods of farmers and fishers and is used to transport grain. The region has experienced widespread crop failures, with Uruguay declaring an agricultural emergency in October.
Other Factors Contributing to Drought Conditions
A recent study conducted by an international team of climate scientists at World Weather Attribution has found that climate change is not directly responsible for the dry conditions, but that doesn’t mean it’s not contributing to them indirectly. While the change in rainfall patterns is attributed to La Niña, the hotter conditions caused by climate change dry out soil faster, making the drought worse. According to the scientists, the record-breaking heatwaves in the region last summer increased evaporation of the little moisture that was in waterways.
Deforestation of the southern Amazon has also resulted in less moisture in the atmosphere farther south and is another contributing factor, explained Paola Arias, professor at the Environmental School of the University of Antioquia in Colombia and lead author of the study.
A separate study conducted by World Weather Attribution assessed the role that climate change played in recent droughts in Western-Central Europe, China, and North America. It found that human-induced climate change increased the likelihood of drought, with higher temperatures being the primary cause of worsening soil moisture drought conditions. The study concludes that soil moisture drought will increase with climate warming.
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Whether water scarcity is caused by climate change, natural climate variability, or other natural phenomena, it is critical that we build resilience to drought to ensure we have sufficient water to meet our needs.
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