California Drought Worst in 1200 Years

Published on December 5th, 2014

Joel B Pollak
December 5, 2014

This week’s statewide rains have made little impact in relieving California’s extreme drought. In fact, according to a new scientific study, this drought is the worst that California has experienced in 1200 years. Researchers studying tree rings concluded that “the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years.”

The study, published as a research letter in the journal of the American Geophysical Union, was written by Daniel Griffin of the University of Minnesota and Kevin J Anchukaitis of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. By measuring tree rings from nearly 300 blue oaks, and comparing those measurements with data from older trees such as giant sequoias, scientists were able to generate estimates of rainfall for centuries.

As the San Jose Mercury News reported: “The researchers took core samples, which don’t harm the living trees, of oaks as old as 500 years and oak logs dating back more than 700 years, the University of Minnesota’s Griffin said. And they sanded down the wood with extremely fine-grain sandpaper, magnifying the rings 40 times under a microscope and measuring them to within one one-thousandth of a millimeter.” The scientists then used similar data in the North American Drought Atlas to calculate temperature and rainfall conditions.

“Although there are 37 times over the past 1,200 years when there were three-year dry periods in California, no period had as little rainfall and as hot of temperatures as 2012-14, the scientists concluded,” the Mercury News reported. 

Meanwhile, Californians still hope that this week’s storms herald the beginning of a recovery.

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