Climate change could turn parts of drought-stricken California into ‘large inland seas’ driven by large algae, study finds

It is not an earthquake. And it’s not a big drought. It’s actually quite the opposite.

A giant block.

Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist and a researcher involved in the study, describes an ice giant as “a very severe flood over a large area that has the potential to cause catastrophic effects to society in the affected areas.” He said a heavy downpour similar to the 1,000-year flash floods occurred this summer in the St. Louis and Kentucky, but over a much larger area, such as the entire state of California.

These massive floods, which experts say will turn California’s lowlands into a “vast inland sea,” may have happened once in a lifetime in the state. But experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of these catastrophic disasters, making them happen every 25 to 50 years.

For the third week in a row flash flooding is a concern in similar areas of the US
Climate change increases heavy rains, making flash floods more frequent, as has been recorded several times this summer in Eastern Kentucky, St. Louisand even in California’s Death Valley National Park.

California is naturally susceptible to flooding from atmospheric rivers, and major floods from them have happened before – but climate change is mounting and millions of people could be affected.

The study says atmospheric rivers can become consecutive for weeks at a time, like in this animation. Xingying Huang, one of the study’s authors, performed this loop, illustrating water vapor transport and potential precipitation accumulation at selected time slices in a 30-day scenario.

The most devastated area will be California’s Central Valley, which includes Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield, the study’s authors said. The Central Valley, roughly the size of Vermont and Massachusetts combined, produces a quarter of the nation’s food supply, according to US Geological Survey.

A flood on the scale of filling this valley has the potential to become the most costly geophysical disaster, causing up to $1 trillion in damage and devastating the state’s lowlands, according to the study. including Los Angeles and Orange counties.

That would be five times the cost of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest disaster in US history.

“Such a flood in modern California would likely exceed the damage from a magnitude earthquake by a considerable margin,” the study found.

In this photo provided by the National Park Service, Mud Canyon Road is closed due to flash flooding in Death Valley, California.

This study is the first of a three-part series studying the effects of a future mega-event in California. The next two phases are expected to be released in two to three years.

“Ultimately, one of our goals is not only to understand these events scientifically, but to help California prepare for them,” Swain said. “It’s a question of when rather than if (megaflood) happens.”

It happened before. It will happen again, but worse, warn scientists

More than 150 years ago, a series of strong atmospheric rivers drained the Golden State, causing one of the most distinctive floods in history after a dry spell that left the West arid for decades. .

Communities were destroyed in minutes.

This 1861 photo shows the flooding in Sacramento.

It was the winter of 1861-1862, according to the study, and a historic downpour transformed the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys into a “temporary but vast inland sea.” Some areas experienced up to 30 feet of water for weeks, destroying infrastructure, farmland and towns.

Sacramento, the new state capital at the time, lay ten feet under the crushed rock for months.

The disaster began in December 1861, when nearly 15 feet of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada. Atmospheric rivers repeated warm rains for the next 43 days, dumping water down mountain slopes and into valleys.

Four thousand people lost their lives, a third of state property was destroyed, a quarter of California’s livestock drowned or starved, and one in eight homes was completely lost to floodwaters.

In addition, a quarter of California’s economy was wiped out, leading to statewide bankruptcies.

Swain warns a downpour like this will happen again, but worse and more often.

Downtown Sacramento today, was raised 10-15 feet after the historic flood.

The study warns: “We found that climate change increased the risk of extreme events (1862) in California, but future climate warming is likely to increase the risk even further. even stronger.”

Many of today’s large cities, with millions of inhabitants, were built directly on ancient flood sediments, Swain added, putting more people at risk.

About 500,000 people lived in California in 1862. Today, the state’s population is more than 39 million.

“When this flood happens again, the consequences will be very different than they were in the 1860s,” says Swain.

Climate change increases the amount of precipitation the atmosphere can hold and causes more water in the air to fall as rain, which can lead to immediate flooding. Both are and will continue to happen in California.

New research shows a rapid increase in the likelihood of rivers with strong to extreme atmospheres lasting a week, repeating during the cool season. An atmospheric river is a long, narrow region of heavy moisture in the atmosphere that can transport moisture thousands of miles, like a fire hydrant in the sky. They often bring beneficial rainfall to drought-stricken regions like California but can quickly become dangerous with a warming climate.

Historically, these winter atmospheric rivers dumped a lot of snow into the Sierra Nevada, but as the climate warms, more snow falls in the form of rain. Instead of melting slowly over time, it all melts, piles up, and floods instantly.

California's Central Valley, which produces a quarter of the nation's food, will be ravaged by a giant monster.

With a neighbor like the Pacific Ocean, California has “an infinite reservoir of offshore steam,” Swain added.

California’s mountainous terrain and wildfire risk make it particularly vulnerable to flooding. Long-term burn scars from wildfires can create a smooth, sloping surface for water and debris to drain. With wildfires getting bigger and burning more acreage due to climate change, many areas are vulnerable to these debris flows.

While models suggest this high volume is inevitable, experts say there are ways to mitigate excessive loss.

Why is climate change hitting some communities harder than others?

“I think the damage (megaflood) can be significantly reduced by doing a few things to improve the flood and water management systems and their resilience,” says Swain. our disaster.

Huang, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a researcher involved in the study, said everyone can make a small effort to combat climate change.

“If we work together to reduce future emissions, we can also reduce the risk of extreme events,” Huang said.

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