Farmers, hydroelectric power producers, shippers and wildlife managers remember the Columbia River Basin drought of 1992-1993 as a year of misery.
Scientists used tree-ring data from 32 sites, indicated with dots on a map of the Columbia River Basin, to reconstruct years of low river flows going back 250 years when written records are inconsistent or nonexistent.
Now researchers using tree-ring data have determined six multiyear droughts between 1750 and 1950 that were much more severe than anything in recent memory because they persisted for years, including one that stretched for 12 years. "Imagine what a drought lasting that long would do to the resources and economy of the region today," says Dave Peterson of the U.S. Agriculture Departments Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and the University of Washingtons College of Forest Resources.
The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, is the first to establish Columbia River flow estimates back 250 years, says lead author Zeev Gedalof of the University of Guelph, Ontario. Reliable natural-runoff estimates extend back only about 75 years, he says.
Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
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