Rare ‘severe’ geomagnetic storm is hitting Earth right now

A rare G4, “severe” geomagnetic storm, is underway. It has the potential to disrupt radio transmission signals, cause problems with the electrical grid and have a range of other possibly costly impacts.

The event, which is just one notch below the highest category of solar storm, began at about 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday, according to the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. The geomagnetic storm is the result of a pair of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, that left the Sun on March 15 and are now interacting with Earth’s atmosphere and geomagnetic field.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, NOAA scientists said the two CMEs may have unexpectedly combined as they sped toward Earth, which could explain why the geomagnetic storm has been so strong.

Coronal mass ejections, which are essentially magnetic clouds ejected at high velocity from the sun, can affect the electricity grid, radio transmissions and GPS signals, among other things, when they interact with the planet’s magnetic field. According to NOAA, there had not been any reported abnormalities in the U.S. power grid as of noon eastern time on Tuesday.

However, there have been numerous reports of “vivid” sightings of the Northern Lights across the northern tier of the U.S., including Washington State and Minnesota. The G4 solar storm is expected to lead to a widespread viewing of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, on Tuesday night from Alaska across Canada and much of Eurasia.

It’s possible that the Northern Lights will be visible as far south as Tennessee, New Mexico and Oklahoma on Tuesday night, NOAA experts said, depending on the evolution of the event’s intensity.

Aurora forecast

Northern Lights forecast for March 17, 2015.

IMAGE: NOAA

The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a G1, or minor, geomagnetic storm watch for Wednesday in response to the two recent CMEs, with the first effects to be felt on Tuesday. Scientists think the two CMEs unexpectedly combined into “one sort of larger shock front traveling and intersecting Earth’s orbit,” according to Robert Rutledge of the Space Weather Prediction Center.

The CMEs in this case were not oriented head-on in relation to Earth, causing forecasters to think the planet would just receive “just a glancing blow,” rather than a severe geomagnetic storm, Rutledge says.

Severe solar storms such as this one have the potential to cause “possible widespread voltage control problems” in the electrical grid. It could also disrupt tracking of spacecraft, and impede the efficacy of high-frequency radio signals, such as those used by flights that travel across the Arctic between North America and Asia. These storms can also degrade the accuracy of satellite navigation.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, these storms tend to occur about 100 times per every 11-year solar cycle, or about 60 days per each 11-year cycle. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, the ongoing event is one of just two G4 events in the current solar cycle.

Dalton Highway

The Northern Lights seen from the Dalton Highway in Alaska on March 17, 2015.

IMAGE: MARKETA MURRAY/SPACEWEATHER.COM

This event is nowhere near the strength that would be required to create a nightmare scenario that space weather specialists have been warning about for years. In that scenario, a powerful geomagnetic storm, a G5 on the five-point scale, shuts down the electrical grid, wreaks havoc on radio communications, GPS devices and aerial navigation systems, costing billions in damage.

California Is Turning Back Into A Desert And There Are No Contingency Plans

Drought-Public-Domain-300x204Once upon a time, much of the state of California was a barren desert.  And now, thanks to the worst drought in modern American history, much of the state is turning back into one.  Scientists tell us that the 20th century was the wettest century that the state of California had seen in 1000 years.  But now weather patterns are reverting back to historical norms, and California is rapidly running out of water.  It is being reported that the state only has approximately a one year supply of water left in the reservoirs, and when the water is all gone there are no contingency plans.  Back in early 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the entire state, but since that time water usage has only dropped by 9 percent.  That is not nearly enough.  The state of California has been losing more than 12 million acre-feet of total water a year since 2011, and we are quickly heading toward an extremely painful water crisis unlike anything that any of us have ever seen before.

But don’t take my word for it.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti “is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine”.  What he has to say about the horrific drought in California is extremely sobering…

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

Are you starting to understand why so many experts are so alarmed?

For much more from Famiglietti, check out this 60 Minutes interview.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, essentially the entire state is suffering drought conditions right now.  And as you can see from the map below, most of the state is currently experiencing either the highest or the second-highest classification of drought…

US Drought Monitor California 2015

Nearly 40 million people live in the state of California at the moment.

What are they all going to do when the water is gone?

In some rural areas, reservoirs are already nearly bone dry.  And in other areas, the water quality has gone way down.  For example, in one Southern California neighborhood black water is now coming out of the taps…

Residents of a Southern California neighborhood are concerned about the fact that the water flowing out of the taps in their homes is the color black. That’s right; the water coming out of their faucets is indeed black — not gray, not cloudy — but black. Inky, opaque black water that the water company says is okay to drink.

Those who live in Gardena, California, are understandably skeptical when asked to consume water that strongly resembles crude oil or something emitted by a squid. The water reportedly also has an “odor of rotten eggs or sewer smell,” according to one resident.

Perhaps you don’t care about what happens to California.

Perhaps you believe that they are just getting what they deserve.

And you might be right about that.

But the truth is that this is a crisis for all of us, because an enormous amount of our fresh produce is grown in the state.

As I discussed in a previous article, the rest of the nation is very heavily dependent on the fruits and vegetables grown in California.  The following numbers represent California’s contribution to our overall production…

99 percent of the artichokes

44 percent of asparagus

two-thirds of carrots

half of bell peppers

89 percent of cauliflower

94 percent of broccoli

95 percent of celery

90 percent of the leaf lettuce

83 percent of Romaine lettuce

83 percent of fresh spinach

a third of the fresh tomatoes

86 percent of lemons

90 percent of avocados

84 percent of peaches

88 percent of fresh strawberries

97 percent of fresh plums

Without the agricultural production of the state of California, we are in a massive amount of trouble.

And of course there are other areas all over the globe that are going through similar things.  For instance, taps in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are running dry as Brazil experiences the worst drought that it has seen in 80 years.

The world simply does not have enough fresh water left at this point, and that is why water is being called “the new oil”.  The following comes from CBS News…

It’s been said that the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water. The Earth’s population has more than doubled over the last 50 years and the demand for fresh water — to drink and to grow food — has surged along with it. But sources of water like rainfall, rivers, streams, reservoirs, certainly haven’t doubled. So where is all that extra water coming from? More and more, it’s being pumped out of the ground.

Water experts say groundwater is like a savings account — something you draw on in times of need. But savings accounts need to be replenished, and there is new evidence that so much water is being taken out, much of the world is in danger of a groundwater overdraft.

And if scientists are right, what we are experiencing right now may just be the very beginning of our problems.  In fact, one team of researchers has concluded that the Southwestern United States is headed for a “megadrought” that could last for decades…

Scientists had already found that the Southwestern United States were at great risk of experiencing a significant megadrought (in this case meaning drought conditions that last for over 35 years) before the end of the 21st century. But a new study published in Science Advancesadded some grim context to those predictions.

Columbia University climate scientists Jason Smerdon and Benjamin Cook, and Cornell University’s Toby Ault were co-authors on the study. They took data from tree rings and other environmental records of climate from the Southwest and compared them to the projections of 17 different climate models that look at precipitation and soil moisture. When they made the comparison between past and future, they found that all the models agreed: the next big megadrought is coming, and it will be way worse than anything we’ve seen in over 1,000 years–including droughts that have been credited with wiping out civilizations.

Needless to say, along with any water crisis comes a food crisis.

Virtually everything that we eat requires a tremendous amount of water to grow.  And at this point, the world is already eating more food than it produces most years.

So what is going to happen to us as this water crisis gets even worse?

California Has Just One Year of Water Reserves, So… Water Cannons

watercannonsJay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has a terrifying piece in the Los Angeles Times about the future of California’s water. According to Famiglietti, the state has just one year of water in reserves:

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

And it gets worse. Apparently we have no real plan for dealing with the continuation of our current drought. So what’s Famiglietti’s solution to this problem? Immediate mandatory water rationing, the acceleration of legislation that focuses on sustainability, and the creation of a new state task force to come up with long term solutions. Pffffft. Good luck.

That all sounds hard. Like really hard. Even in a state that didn’t have completely dysfunctional government, that would be hard. So may I suggest an idea from history?2

In the early 1950s a construction engineer by the name of Sidney Cornell proposed shooting man-made geysers from Northern California to Southern California. The illustration above ran in the October 1951 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine, showing how this whole thing was supposed to work. The system would leapfrog water down the state, with plants spaced one mile apart. Of course, with Northern California also struggling, we’ll have to pull that water from somewhere else. Alaska, maybe?

Yes, it’s a really idiotic idea. But it seems about as likely as getting anything done politically at any level in California’s government right now. Forget the Hyperloop. Bring on the water cannons!

Image by Frank Tinsley via Modern Mechanix blog

 

Discarded Russian submarines could cause a nuclear disaster in the Arctic

The Arctic could become a site of future turmoil, and not just because of the emerging geopolitical tensions and militarization in the region.

Beyond concerns of a frozen conflict in the icy north, there is the additional fear that the Barents and Kara Seas could become the location of a slow-motion nuclear disaster. Until 1991 the Soviet Union used the seas as a junkyard where it would dispose of its nuclear waste.

Sunken Russian Nuclear WasteGoogle

According to the Bellona Foundation, citing the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA), the Soviet Union dumped “19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery; 17,000 containers of radioactive waste,” and three nuclear submarines in the seas.

Disposing of nuclear waste and spent reactors at sea was actually a common practice around the world until the early 1970s. But the Soviet Union dumped a significant amount of material into bodies of water that were sometimes not that far from neighboring countries.

Three scuttled nuclear submarines are the most dangerous of the disposals for the overall safety of the region  — the K-27, the K-278, and the K-159, according to The Moscow Times. Of those, the K-27 is the one most likely to cause a Chernobyl-like event in which the casings of the reactors fail and dangerous amounts of radiation escape into the environment.

The K-27 is particularly risky, the BBC reports, due to its unique design. The submarine, which was launched in 1962, was experimentally developed with two previously untested liquid-metal cooled reactors. Soon after deployment the submarine began emitting high levels of radiation, poisoning its crew.

In 1981, the Soviet Union sunk the submarine in the Kara Sea. But the sub was scuttled at a depth of only 99 feet (30 meters), significantly below international guidelines.

The Moscow Times also reports that the K-159 and K-278 are potential causes for concern. The K-278 is at depths too deep for possible retrieval if it begins to leak radioactive material into the ocean.

The K-159, meanwhile, remains a point of contention between Russia and Norway — Oslo believes that the submarine and its potentially leaky reactor could disrupt fisheries along Norway’s northern shore.

Soviet Submarine K-159Reuters Photographer/REUTERSAn undated photo of a Russian 1960’s era November class nuclear attack submarine similar to the K-159 which sank in the Barents Sea on Saturday morning. The ageing submarine sank during a storm as it was being towed into port for scrapping and upto eight service men were feared killed, the Defence Ministry said.

“K-159 represents the biggest potential for emission, considering the levels of radioactivity in the reactors, compared with other dumped or sunken objects in the Kara Sea with spent nuclear fuel or radioactive waste,” Ingar Amundsen, the head of the NRPA told the Barents Observer.

In August 2014, the NRPA and Russian authorities conducted a joint investigation into possible nuclear leaks emanating from K-159. After the probe, Russian scientists reported that there were no signs that 800 kilograms of spent uranium fuel had begun leaking out of the submarine, Bellona reports.

National Geographic has previously reported that the chance of a leak from a nuclear submarine was miniscule in the near term, as reactors are shielded. Individual fuel rods within the reactor are then further encased in a special alloy to slow corrosion. This means that reactors should take centuries to leak into the ocean, by which time a majority of the nuclear material would have decayed.

But that assumes a level of durability that older Soviet models might not have. And a possible Russian-related environmental disaster in a contested geopolitical frontier like the Arctic could have unpredictable consequences.

Scientists warn of ‘mega-drought’ risk in western US

megadroughtLong-lasting mega-droughts could occur with increasing frequency in the western United States later this century if no action is taken to rein in climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, researchers said.

Mega-drought is defined as any drought as bad as the worst already seen in the 20th century, but lasting much longer, for 35 years or more.

The study is the first to predict that the coming intense dry spells could exceed the decades-long mega-droughts that occurred centuries ago and are blamed for the demise of certain civilizations in the late 13th century.

“I was honestly surprised at just how dry the future is likely to be,” said co-author Toby Ault, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University.

“I look at these future mega-droughts like a slow moving natural disaster. We have to put mega-droughts into the same category as other natural disasters that can be dealt with through risk management.”

The risks and dangers are worse today because of the larger population and greater dependence on water resources, scientists warned.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“Even when selecting for the worst mega-drought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

– ‘Unfavorable’ forecast –

Researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising temperatures on regions from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

They also projected a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and looked at a scenario in which actions were taken to cut back on greenhouse gases resulting in lower emissions. Both approaches raised concern for the future.

“The results… are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas who was not involved in the study.

Currently the western United States has been experiencing a drought for about 11 of the past 14 years.

The dry area spans California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma and other parts of the region, directly affects more than 64 million people.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, and published in a new AAAS online journal called Science Advances

Ebola Virus Out Breaks by Year

The rate of infection has slowed in Guinea, but it has increased in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia.

As infection accelerates, some aid groups are pulling out to protect their own.

Samaritan’s Purse and the missionary group Serving in Mission have recalled all nonessential personnel from Liberia.

The Peace Corps announced Wednesday it is doing the same, removing its 340 volunteers from the three severely affected nations.

While there are no confirmed cases, a Peace Corps spokeswoman said two volunteers came into contact with someone who ended up dying from the virus.

Those Americans haven’t shown signs of Ebola but are being isolated just in case. The spokeswoman said they can’t return home until they get medical clearance.

Ebola is outstripping control efforts, top WHO official warns

Fears rose Friday that the Ebola virus may have spread as Nigerian authorities said they have quarantined two people who may have the disease and have another 69 under observation.

With fears the disease may get a toehold in Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos, the head of the World Health Organization warned that the virus in West Africa was outstripping efforts to control it.

Dr. Margaret Chan was speaking at a meeting of the leaders of four West African countries in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, to discuss measures to bring the disease under control. The WHO said it planned to release $100 million to deploy hundreds of medical staff to fight the disease.

More than 1,300 people have been infected in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the worst Ebola outbreak on record. Of those, 729 have died, according to the WHO.

In recent weeks the epicenter of the outbreak has shifted from Guinea to Sierra Leone.

“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” Chan said. “This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.”

In Nigeria, authorities insisted they had the situation under control after a Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, 40, became ill with Ebola while flying into the commercial capital, Lagos, and later died there in a hospital. The spread of the disease to Lagos has raised fears that cases may emerge farther afield in other parts of Africa, Europe, the United States or elsewhere.

The immediate worst-case scenario would be for the disease to take hold in Lagos – crowded, poverty-stricken in many areas, and at times chaotic, posing the risk it could spread throughout Africa’s most populous country.

“It would be foolish for us to think it couldn’t spread. I think this is a potential worldwide threat,” said Ebola expert G. Richard Olds, dean of the School of Medicine at UC Riverside, noting that in past outbreaks of highly infectious diseases, including SARS, AIDS and monkey pox, the diseases eventually reached the U.S.

“If it takes hold in Nigeria, we have a real problem on our hands. I’d be very concerned about that because Lagos would be the most concerning situation: It’s a very densely populated area and is in a situation where the healthcare infrastructure is probably ill prepared to deal with this type of virus.”

The chief medical officer of the Lagos Teaching Hospital, Akin Osibogun, said the hospital had tested 20 blood samples for possible Ebola cases, all of which tested negative, Nigerian media reported Friday.

However, there were signs of panic and chaos. A man’s corpse was brought into Anambra state in recent days as cargo from Liberia, underscoring doubts about whether adequate measures are in place to control the disease. The cause of the man’s death wasn’t known.

Authorities on Thursday cordoned off the morgue where the body was being held.

“We are surprised how the corpse came into Nigeria and Anambra state. It is shocking to us,” a local health official, Josephat Akabike, said. “We have directed the police to cordon off the area. Ebola is a very big threat and that is why we are taking all the measures.”

Uganda, Kenya and South Africa all said Friday they had no suspected cases of the disease.

South African authorities warned they would not allow anyone into the country who knowingly arrived with the Ebola virus — but said they would admit and treat anyone who arrived with symptoms if they were not aware they had the disease. The country has thermal scanners at airports capable of detecting people with elevated temperatures.

South Africa has had two reports of Ebola-like symptoms, both which turned out not to be Ebola, according to South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Desease.

Ebola initially presents with common, flu-like symptoms — fever, headache and body aches. The disease, while highly contagious, is not airborne and is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, including sweat and blood.

The terror in West Africa has hampered efforts to control it, with people running away rather than going into isolation wards, which are associated with death.

In her remarks, Chan said it was important to combat the popular view that Ebola was a certain death sentence, which impeded efforts to get people to seek help in hospitals and treatment facilities. People instead keep their loved ones hidden at home or turn to traditional healers, causing the virus to spread.

She warned that “public attitudes can create a security threat to response teams when fear and misunderstanding turn to anger, hostility, or violence.”

Chan also said it was also important to change cultural attitudes around burial.

For relatives of victims, washing and burying the body is culturally important, but also highly dangerous and one way in which the disease has spun out of control.

Olds said that while the disease has a high fatality rate – more than 50% – and was highly contagious, it is not as contagious as SARS, because it is not an airborne virus.

Previous outbreaks had occurred in remote areas of Africa, where the population wasn’t mobile, making it easier to contain, but this outbreak occurred in a more densely populated region with a highly mobile population, accounting for the rapid spread of the disease and difficulties containing it.

“It’s particularly dangerous when it gets into areas that are densely populated and have weak health infrastructure,” he said.

<A NOTE FROM DOOM> An aid worker  with Ebola was flown into Atlanta yesterday for experimental treatment.

Record-Setting Drought Intensifies in Parched California

The relentless heat that has plagued the western half of the country this summer has ratcheted up California’s terrible drought once again, bringing it to record levels. More than half of the state is in “exceptional” drought, the highest category recognized by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which released its latest update on Thursday.

“The heat has been and continues to be a factor in drought expansion,” Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and this week’s Drought Monitor author, told Climate Central.

New information coming in about reservoir levels, stream flows and Record-Setting Drought Intensifies in Parched California prompted Rippey to increase the amount of California covered by exceptional drought to 58 percent from 34 percent (all of the state is in some level of drought). That is a record amount of the state covered by this level of drought since the Monitor began in 1990.

While the drought can’t be directly linked to climate change, the warming of the planet is expected to make already dry places drier. And future droughts could be even worse.

The current drought — which rivals the terrible drought of the late 1970s — has been 3 years in the making, as three successive winter wet seasons went by with below-normal rainfall. The paltry snowpack this year really intensified matters, and the persistent pattern of heat in the West and cold in the East has kept much of California baking all year. In fact, the state had its warmest first six months of a year on record this year. July has followed suit with, for example, San Francisco registering an uncharacteristic 90°F on July 25, a full 12°F above normal.

“Excessive heat this time of year leads to heavy irrigation demands, deteriorating rangeland and pasture conditions, and higher evaporation rates,” Rippey wrote in an email.

These effects of the heat further reduce reservoir levels and stream flows and can send more towns and farmers in search of groundwater to pump. Reports of such changes can slowly trickle in as the impacts intensify and give the Drought Monitor authors reason to upgrade the level of drought in an area, or in this case, over a large swath of Northern California.

Reservoir storage in the state currently sits at about 60 percent of its normal level, above the record low of 41 percent set in 1977, but short about a year’s worth of reservoir storage. That shortfall is the result of the abysmal rains over the past 3 years: From July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014, statewide precipitation averaged 45.05 inches, which was a record low.

“Effectively, only about 2 years of precipitation fell in that 3-year period from July 2011 to June 2014,” Rippey said.

(MORE: NASA Photos Show How Bad California’s Drought Has Gotten)

With such dismal numbers, water conservation is key.

“Conservation is certainly critical from this point forward, especially if drought-easing precipitation does not materialize during the 2014-15 cold season,” he said.

The state recently enacted mandatory water restrictions after a call for voluntary conservation failed to move the needle. For example, new regulations call for local agencies to fine anyone found wasting water up to $500 per day.

The depth of the drought and the heat have both helped fuel wildfires in the state, including a fire raging in Yosemite National Park that is 58 percent contained.

Officials have been hoping that a developing El Niño, currently foundering, would bring some relief in the form of winter rains this coming winter. But only strong El Niños are well correlated with rainier-than-normal conditions over Southern California, and this El Niño is looking less and less like it will be a strong one. However, even a weak or moderate El Niño could mean the wet season hits somewhat close to normal rainfall numbers.

The Drought Apocalypse Approaches As The Colorado River Basin Dries Up

Scientists on Thursday released a first-of-its-kind study that finds the seven states of the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin are depleting groundwater reserves at a rapid rate. That threatens the future of a river that supplies water to 40 million people and irrigates 4 million acres of farmland.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA analyzed data from a satellite that measures underground water reserves to calculate that the Colorado River Basin has lost 65 cubic kilometers—that’s 17.3 trillion gallons—of water between December 2004 and November 2013. That represents twice the capacity of the United States’ largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada. Most worrying, 75 percent of the loss came from groundwater supplies.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” Stephanie Castle, the report’s lead author and a water resources specialist at UC Irvine, said in a statement. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Terrifying, actually. Groundwater reserves have accumulated over thousands of years and recharge at an exceedingly slow rate as rainwater and snowmelt seep into the ground. Rain is rare as the current drought enters its 15th year.

The data indicates that farmers and cities are pumping far more groundwater than can be replenished. At some point, the well will run dry.

“We observe a negative net change in groundwater storage over the 108-month time period [of the study], indicating that groundwater withdrawals (pumping) are not balanced by recharge and must be greater than the observed depletion rate,” Castle said in an email.

Once the seven states of the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—deplete their groundwater reserves beyond the point of no return, they will run out of options. Usually, the states rely on aboveground reservoirs like Lake Mead to help them weather dry years. But the water level at Lake Mead has fallen to a historic low, and other reservoirs are drying up fast.

It will get worse, especially as the region grows hotter because of climate change.

“The rapid rates of groundwater depletion will lead to further declines in Colorado River steam flows and, combined with declining snowpack and population growth, will likely threaten the long-term ability” to supply water to the seven states, said Castle.

With less water flowing into reservoirs, the states will keep pumping irreplaceable groundwater reserves. That “poses a significant threat to the long-term water security of the region,” concluded the report, which is to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

So what to do? First, fill in the data gap to figure out exactly how much water is left so decisions can be made about its management for the future. That’s where the satellite program called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment comes in. The satellite measures tiny changes in an area’s gravitational pull to determine its groundwater capacity.

“There’s only one way to put together a very large–area study like this, and that is with satellites,” Jay Famiglietti,  a coauthor of the report and a senior water cycle scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

National Guard Prepares For ‘An Event’ At Yellowstone National Park

If there is one part of the United States that truly has the potential for a doomsday scenario, it is easily Yellowstone National Park. Despite the fact hundreds of people visit the national park each day — probably to see all the geysers, hot springs and wildlife the park is famous for — what they don’t realize is that the park is sitting on one the largest active volcano in the world. That alone should be frightening!

As a matter of fact, we here at The Inquisitr reported numerous times on Yellowstone National Park or the conspiracy theory it is about ready to erupt. This includes articles that animals are escaping the park and that the USGS is hiding information about the park’s earthquake fissures. But everything should be all right because the bison aren’t leaving the park, so that means there is no issue, right?

Now another video has come to light on the internet showing that the National Guard is preparing for a Yellowstone National Park event, quite possibly the supervolcano eruption.

Uploaded by Tom Lupshu on his YouTube channel, the majority of the video is him talking about the upcoming eruption or the possibility of an upcoming eruption. It is very frightening how he makes it sound, and as the video comes to an end, it almost comes off as a conspiracy theory with no proof… until the very end shows the leaked video feed of the National Guard preparing for the monumental event. The cut is very short, but it shows a man who is probably in charge talking about how the ash is really heavy and comes in like a dense fog.

volcano-eruption

Another fringe websiteBefore It’s News, followed up on Tom Lupshu’s video, explaining what would be needed if the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park were to erupt. The magnitude and strength of the volcano would require people to stock up on as much non-perishable food and clean water as well as have weaponry for hunting and defense.

If this video is real, let’s hope this is nothing more than a training exercise for the possibility of a catastrophic event instead of quick preparation for a predicted event in the near future. After all, most Americans would prefer to visit scenic Yellowstone to see the bison and the geysers. Preparing for the end of life as we know it is probably not high on most folk’s bucket list.

[Image Via Columbia Pictures and National Geographic]