In case you’ve been living under a rock: California’s been gripped by devastating drought, one of the most severe it’s seen in centuries.
Just last month, with communities already beginning to ration water, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. But why is the drought happening?
Much of California’s crisis can be explained by its smaller-than-usual snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. As the snow melts every spring, it becomes a crucial water source that makes its way into tributaries, reservoirs, and aquifers throughout the state. You can see the difference in the snowpack, just between winter in 2013 and 2014 in the images below, brought to us by NASA:
Climatologists have been worried about the state’s declining snow supply for years. In 2013, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created the first-ever maps of California’s Sierra Nevada snow in order to measure how fast it might melt and to keep an eye on the looming drought. In the next seven years, NASA also plans on launching four new satellites into space to help monitor California’s water crisis.
The visualization also magnifies another issue. California central region is proud home to America’s “salad bowl,” an agricultural area that produces half of the country’s fresh vegetables. In a drought, it’s not only California’s economy and health that’s in trouble, but the rest of the nation’s, too. That’s why scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are in a race to develop drought-resistant crops. USDA geneticist Beiquan Mou, for example, is working through a three-year, $38 million dollar grant to grow drought-resilient breeds of lettuce and spinach. He should have his results soon this year. Hopefully, it’s not too late for farmers there today.