NASA warns North America at risk for decades-long drought

FRESNO, Calif. -- A decades-long drought, worse than any dry spell recorded in the last 1,000 years. That's the impending disaster parts of North America are facing, according to NASA scientists.

In California, the drought right now is one of the worst we've seen in years. And according to a local economist, the Central Valley might have to change the way we do business.

Acres of newly planted almond trees cover Phil Larson's property in Kerman. He's one of many farmers adapting to the ongoing drought in California, so he can continue to make a living producing food.

"You've got one of seven Mediterranean climates in the world and one of those is right here in the Central Valley. And so we are important -- not only to our own economy but to the world economy," said former Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson.

But the way the Central Valley does business might have to change, if a new NASA study is correct. Scientists say with the help of computer simulations, they've been able to project what the climate will look like through the rest of the 21st century. According to the study, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to be emitted into the atmosphere at their current rate, the likelihood of decades-long droughts rises to 80 percent. If global nations worked aggressively to reduce emissions the droughts are likely to be less severe but still imminent.

"Literally hundreds of millions of dollars we lost last year in agriculture and people left ground dormant, they basically had to pull out trees. And if we have another dry year without a significant amount of rain in the mountains, it's going to get worse," said Fresno State economic expert Dr. Bill Rice.

Dr. Rice said the Central Valley may have to adapt into an area that manufactures goods to sustain jobs. Because when one system collapses, many other systems are affected.

"When you have a dollar that comes in, let's say $10,000 that comes in from produce, how much of that goes into tractors? How much of that goes into building things or developing things?" said Dr. Rice.

No matter how severe, NASA scientists said the American Southwest and Great Plains will suffer from droughts during the next century.
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