The Missouri River is running at its lowest point in the last 1,220 YEARS due to less snow melt in the Rockies, sparking fears of a midwest mega-drought
- New research measured water levels in the Missouri River going back to 800AD
- The team measured tree rings for each year to see yearly changes
- Climate change has been causing the river to slowly dry out since the 1950s
- The river reached its driest point in 1,200 years between 2000 and 2010
- Researchers fear the midwest could be vulnerable to a new megadrought
The Missouri River has been slowly running dry since the 1950s, and could be on the verge of triggering a new era of drought across the midwest.
According to a report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the drying trend began in the 1950s and reached its worst point in the decade between 2000 and 2010, when the Missouri River ran lower than at any point in the last 1,200 years.
The team linked the phenomenon to declines in snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Upper Missouri River Basin and accounts for around 30 percent of the river’s total water flow.
Parts of the Missouri River have been steadily drying out since the 1950s, according to new research that says the river reached its lowest levels in 1,200 years in the early 2000s
‘In the [Upper Missouri River Basin], what we’re really worried about is a future of snow droughts,’ University of North Carolina’s Erika Wise told The Washington Post. ‘Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains is very sensitive to warming temperatures.’
‘Snow provides the water for stream flow to the Upper Missouri, and we’ve designed our agriculture and infrastructure around expectations that this water will be provided at a certain pace over a certain part of the year.’
The Missouri River is the longest in the US, spanning 2,342 miles between Brower’s Spring, Montana and Spanish Lake near St. Louis, Missouri, where it joins the Mississippi River.
The Missouri River is a critical water source for the midwest, according to the researchers, ‘supporting megafarms, hydropower, tourism and healthy ecosystems.’
The researchers worry that the continuing drought could mirror the effects of a similar regional aridity sweeping across the west, ‘contributing to drier soil, widespread tree death, and more severe wildfires.’
The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, spanning 2,342 miles between Montana and Missouri, where it joins the Mississippi near St. Louis
The major drying has been caused by less seasonal snow falling in the Rocky Mountains, meaning less meltwater in the spring to fill the Upper Missouri River Basin, which is responsible for around 30 percent of the river’s total water flow
To document the full historical context for the Missouri’s River’s water levels, the team looked at tree rings from various test sites along its banks.
Tree ring data recorded relative water levels in the river dating as far back as 800AD, with wider rings pointing to wetter years and narrower rings indicating dry years.
The team found the recent drying trend first appeared in the 1950s in the Upper Missouri River Basin and has gradually been getting worse each decade.
The driest years on record occurred between 2000 and 2010, but the team cautions that even more intense drying could occur in the future.
The researchers fear the severe drying could trigger a new megadrought in the midwest that could affect the region’s megafarms, hydropower stations, and complex ecosystems
In the worst cases, the team fears the midwest could experience its own megadrought, similar to what other researchers have predicted will devastate the American southwest in 2030.
‘We don’t tend to think of the upper Missouri region as being as drought-threatened as a region like the Southwest United States, ‘ Wise said.
‘These findings show that the upper Missouri Basin is reflecting some of the same changes that we see elsewhere across North America, including the increased occurrence of hot drought.’