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USU Researchers Consider California's Climate Future

Christopher Campbell
Lawrence Hipps, Utah State University professor of plants, soils and climate, said he and his colleagues were interested in understanding what the extreme conditions in California will be.

According to a study published in October’s Nature Communications journal, as long as climate change continues the route it’s going, California will experience extreme floods and extreme droughts through 2080 as a result of El Niño.

Lawrence Hipps, plants, soils and climate professor at Utah State University, who contributed to the study, said he and his colleagues made this prediction by putting data into a supercomputer.

“These climate models include the interactions within the atmosphere, between the atmosphere and the ocean, between the atmosphere and the land, and just about everything but the kitchen sink,” Hipps said.

Hipps said before he and his colleagues did the study, scientific literature already indicated California’s average precipitation will increase, but he said that does not mean anything when accounting for the extreme conditions.

“Too wet and then too dry is a double whammy,” he said. “You got hit on both sides, and it’s not good even though the average looks pretty.”

Robert Gillies, director of the Utah Climate Center, who also contributed to the study, said during wetter years more plants are expected to grow as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. However, he said they will dry out during the hotter, drier seasons.

“And that, sort of, is a perfect recipe for more intense and more fires,” Gillies said.

While the computer model took climate change into account, the researchers did not look at what would happen if human activity that contributes to global warming declines.

Gillies said ideally people should use the findings to prepare for extreme events and possibly take measures to mitigate their effects.