Monsoon Special 2013: Tree rings give new insight into drought

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by Royal Norman & Kim Quintero

Bio | Email | Follow: @kimquintero

azfamily.com

Posted on June 6, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 6 at 1:20 PM

TUCSON, Ariz -- If you think the Arizona drought is bad right now, you haven't seen anything yet.

That's the message from researchers at the University of Arizona who have spent the past five years studying tree rings.

They say tree rings have given them insight into Arizona's drought pattern over the past 470 years. Students and faculty went to most of the mountain ranges in Arizona and New Mexico where they took samples of trees. Researchers say these samples showed the major droughts during the last few hundred years were not just droughts caused by a dry winter but also a dry monsoon season.

"I think the message from our work is these kinds of droughts that we're seeing now, so far are not really unusual when you look at the longer record, that we've had droughts that have occurred in the past that have been more persistent, and that certainly has implications for how we use water in this area and that we really haven't seen the worst that we can have," said Dr. Connie Woodhouse, associate professor at the University of Arizona.

Daniel Griffin is studying to get his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.

"Another thing I would say is just because we had a dry winter, that's no guarantee that we're going to have a wet summer," Griffin said. "That's sort of been the folk, sort of the wisdom, in a way, because that's kind of been the pattern since 1960."

Researchers say when you add impacts of future climate change to the drought picture, the effects could be severe.

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