The Science of Super-Droughts—Interview w/Julio Herrera Estrada

Terrible droughts driven by climate change can increase greenhouse gas emissions in an unexpected way. When the reservoirs at electric power dams run low, utilities make up the difference by burning more fossil fuels. In a new case study of the American West, the extra emissions are significant. That is just one part of the big story emerging as the world warms.

Our guest is a drought specialist from Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science. Julio Herrera Estrada is a Postdoctoral Scholar with published research on droughts in Mexico, the United States, and Africa. His Pd.D. thesis surprised me. I thought drought appeared in one place, and then perhaps in another region, but Julio’s research shows droughts can travel.

Show by Radio Ecoshock, reposted under CC License. Episode details at https://www.ecoshock.org/2019/01/global-heat-alert.html

Stop Fossil Fuels researches and disseminates effective strategies and tactics to halt fossil fuel combustion as fast as possible. Learn more at https://stopfossilfuels.org

SHOW NOTES
We talk about Julio’s recent paper “Response of electricity sector air pollution emissions to drought conditions in the western United States.” That was published December 21st, 2018 in Environmental Research Letters.

Drought drives electric utilities to emit more emissions in two different ways. First giant power dams lose water capacity during a drought. Second, when water power is not available, some western states kick in natural gas generators, while others turn to coal. That make a significant difference in emissions.

A 2016 Technical report from National Renewable Energy Laboratory found “43 incidents of water-related power plant issues from 2000 to 2015… These incidents occur throughout the United States and affect coal and nuclear plants...” Drought can drive shutdowns of fossil fuel or even nuclear power plants.

When we think of big water users, it’s usually agriculture. But that NREL report says about 41% of all water withdrawal in the U.S. is for the thermal electric power industry. There are two factors leading to shutdowns (a) there is enough water but it is too hot and (b) there is not enough water.

A January 2016 Letter in Nature Climate Change, led by Michelle van Vliet, found, quote, “reductions in usable capacity for 6174% of the hydropower plants and 8186% of the thermoelectric power plants worldwide for [the period] 20402069.” Drought will be one factor in that.

There have been a lot of severe droughts in the U.S. in the last ten years. These include the 2011 drought in Texas, one in the U.S. Central Great Plains in 2012, and a five-year monster in California from 2012 to 2017. That has gone beyond “normal”. After a 2005 study of a three-million acre die-off of vegetation in 2002-2003, Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, then at the University of Arizona, raised the question of whether we are at the “dawn of the super-interglacial drought.”

In the February 2015 issue of Science Advances, Benjamin Cook and his co-authors published the ominous paper “Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains“. They suggest coming mega-droughts worse then records measured for Medieval Times.

Most people do not realize our current society is still a hydrological civilization. We collect water in the spring to irrigate farm lands during the growing season, for water power, and for water hungry cities. Is it possible some parts of the planet will become less viable simply due to irregular and unpredictable water supplies?

Related Books

InnerSelf Market

Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

EVIDENCE

Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
wind turbines
A controversial US book is feeding climate denial in Australia. Its central claim is true, yet irrelevant
by Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science, Griffith University
My heart sank last week to see conservative Australian commentator Alan Jones championing a contentious book about…
image
Reuters' Hot List of climate scientists is geographically skewed: why this matters
by Nina Hunter, Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of KwaZulu-Natal
The Reuters Hot List of “the world’s top climate scientists” is causing a buzz in the climate change community. Reuters…
A person holds a shell in their hand in blue water
Ancient shells hint past high CO2 levels could return
by Leslie Lee-Texas A&M
Using two methods to analyze tiny organisms found in sediment cores from the deep seafloor, researchers have estimated…
image
Matt Canavan suggested the cold snap means global warming isn't real. We bust this and 2 other climate myths
by Nerilie Abram, Professor; ARC Future Fellow; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes; Deputy Director for the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, Australian National University
Senator Matt Canavan sent many eyeballs rolling yesterday when he tweeted photos of snowy scenes in regional New South…
Ecosystem sentinels sound alarm for the oceans
by Tim Radford
Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the…
Why Sea Otters Are Climate Warriors
Why Sea Otters Are Climate Warriors
by Zak Smith
In addition to being one of the cutest animals on the planet, sea otters help maintain healthy, carbon-absorbing kelp…

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
A brown weasel with a white belly leans on a rock and looks over its shoulder
Once common weasels are doing a vanishing act
by Laura Oleniacz - NC State
Three species of weasels, once common in North America, are likely in decline, including a species that’s considered…
Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies
by Tim Radford
A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.