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Water Levels in the High Plains Aquifer have Dropped Over 200 feet in Texas & Kansas

Three years of extreme drought, amplified by climate change, and decades of excessive withdrawal of groundwater from the high plains aquifer are turning the rich farm lands of southern high plains into a dust bowl with faint hopes of recovery. Water stored since the end of the last glacial period cannot be replaced. Temperatures in Texas soared to record extremes that cannot be explained by natural variability. The Texas beef cow inventory is a remarkable 1 million head (20%) smaller than two years ago.  When Cargill shut down it's beef processing plant in February because of a lack of supply of cattle 2300 workers in Plainview lost their jobs. The plant's annual payroll of $55.5 million was the base of the town's economy. Moreover, jobs that provided services to surrounding cattle ranches have also been lost as hot dry weather took its toll on the land and the herds. A million less cows in Texas translates to thousands and thousands of lost jobs across the state and hundreds of millions in economic losses.
In 2007, a team of climate scientists warned of imminent drought in the southwest.
Projections of anthropogenic climate change conducted by nineteen different climate modeling groups around the world, using different climate models, show widespread agreement that Southwestern North America - and the subtropics in general - are on a trajectory to a climate even more arid than now. According to the models, human-induced aridification becomes marked early in the current century. In the Southwest the levels of aridity seen in the 1950s multiyear drought, or the 1930s Dust Bowl, become the new climatology by mid-century: a perpetual drought.
This climate change prediction for the southwest was based on fundamental aspects of climate science, not hard-to-understand complexities.  The southern plains and the southwest will be devastated by a warming and drying climate as greenhouse gas levels rise.
Mechanisms of Southwest and subtropical drying

Drying of the Southwest and the subtropics are caused by large scale changes in the atmospheric branch of the hydrological cycle. There are two aspects of this:

The subtropics are already dry because the mean flow of the atmosphere moves moisture out of these regions whereas the deep tropics and the higher latitudes are wet because the atmosphere converges moisture into those regions. As air warms it can hold more moisture and this existing pattern of the divergence and convergence of water vapor by the atmospheric flow intensifies. This makes dry areas drier and wet areas wetter.

As the planet warms, the Hadley Cell, which links together rising air near the Equator and descending air in the subtropics, expands poleward. Descending air suppresses precipitation by drying the lower atmosphere so this process expands the subtropical dry zones. At the same time, and related to this, the rain-bearing mid-latitude storm tracks also shift poleward. Both changes in atmospheric circulation, which are not fully understood, cause the poleward flanks of the subtropics to dry.

Besides Southwestern North America other land regions to be hit hard by subtropical drying include southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East as well as parts of South America.

In 2007, Climate scientists warned of imminent drying in the southwest.
Texas and Kansas ranchers and farmers are confronting catastrophe. Without water, they have nothing.
“That’s prime land,” he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. “I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help.” Now, he said, “it’s over.” ....

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

Human caused climate change is withering the rangelands, wheat fields and corn fields. Massive groundwater depletion is making the region waterless. Land that was formerly productive is becoming a second dust bowl. Like the first dust bowl, it is caused by human activities, combined with natural cycles. Poor land management methods, in particular excessive plowing, led to massive dust storms when the dry winds blew. The dust clouds heated the air and lowered the relative humidity. It became a vicious cycle of dust and drought. Today's second dust bowl is also caused by human activities, but this time they're greenhouse gas emissions. The lesson of the first dust bowl, that human activities can change the weather and the climate, has been willfully ignored.

Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology isn't speaking out about the loss of water, food and jobs. He's not writing about the plight of the farmers in the high plains. He's denying that climate change is impacting Texas' economy.

Instead of pursuing heavy-handed regulations that imperil U.S. jobs and send jobs (and their emissions) overseas, we should take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us.
He's an oil man. He wants to import tar sands extracts from Canada to refine in Texas to export to central and south America. We get the spills and pollution, Canada gets the money and Mexico gets the gas.  Large areas of his state are turning into a desert, but he is advocating policies that will make the climate in Texas hotter and drier.  Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Science Committee, is whistling past the graveyards of the ghost towns of Texas.

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Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Mon May 20, 2013 at 12:25 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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