Read more here about THE WEST WITHOUT WATER: by Professor Lynn Ingram and Dr. Frances Roam-Malamud


Before Governor Brown and the headlines caught up with the severity of the California drought, this interview with Dr. Lynn Ingram in TIME.Com on January 24, 2014 revealed how the crisis had been brewing for centuries:


California Drought: Water Supply Could Tighten in Mega Droughts | TIME.com http://science.time.com/2014/01/23/hundred-years-of-dry-how-californias-drought-could-get-much-much-worse/#ixzz2rKsPDmBL

Californians need to be ready, because if some scientists are right, this drought could be worse than anything the state has experienced in centuries. B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at rings of old trees in the state, which helps scientists gauge precipitation levels going back hundreds of years. (Wide tree rings indicate years of substantial growth and therefore healthy rainfall, while narrow rings indicate years of little growth and very dry weather.) She believes that California hasn’t been this dry since 1580, around the time the English privateer Sir Francis Drake first visited the state’s coast:

If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century, like during the Medieval period and the middle Holocene [the current geological epoch, which began about 11,000 years ago]. The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren’t as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that.

Ingram is referring to paleoclimatic evidence that California, and much of the American Southwest, has a history of mega-droughts that could last for decades and even centuries. Scientists like Richard Seager of Columbia University’s Lamont-Dohery Earth Observatory have used tree-ring data to show that the Plains and the Southwest experienced multi-decadal droughts between 800 A.D. and 1500 A.D. Today dead tree stumps—carbon-dated to the Medieval period—can be seen in river valley bottoms in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and underwater in places like California’s Mono Lake, signs that these bodies of water were once completely dry. Other researchers have looked at the remains of bison bones found in archaeological sites, and have deduced that a millennium ago, the bison were far less numerous than they were several centuries later, when they blanketed the Plains—another sign of how arid the West once was. The indigenous Anasazi people of the Southwest built great cliff cities that can still be seen in places like Mesa Verde—yet their civilization collapsed, quite possibly because they couldn’t endure the mega-droughts.

Dr. Lynn Ingram, an expert in Paleogeology who teaches at UC Berkeley, has been interviewed by Scientific American, "Science Friday," and several western NPR stations since the publication of THE WEST WITHOUT WATER.  She is a frequent speaker at professional conferences about California water issues.





Read more here about THE WEST WITHOUT WATER: by Professor Lynn Ingram and Dr. Frances Roam-Malamud

The WEST WITHOUT WATER traces the geological history of water and drought in the Northern, Central and Southern parts of California back through millennia. Professors Ingram and Roam-Malmud warn that the accelerated human development of the twentieth-century took place during an unusually wet period and therefore under-predicts potential disasters. 


What is to come will be a far more difficult climate.  The parts of the country described in THE WEST WITHOUT WATER supply much of American’s food, and its prosperity supports much of our wealth. No one can afford to let the environment fail.  As the authors state :


Above all, we hope this book provides a much-needed wake-up call for the American West, a region now poised for a "perfect storm".  Continued warming will increase the drying of this already arid region, leading to severe water shortages.  Our research, and that of others, shows that extended droughts (often followed by catastrophic floods) have plagued the West during past periods of warmth.  . . . And while the West and its human landscapes have been temporarily buffered from such harsh climate swings by artificial hydrologic systems, these have been maintained only with dwindling underground water reserves.  A reckoning is on the horizon and we must face the realities of the past and future and begin to act today.


This is a vivid and compelling narrative of the West’s tumultuous climate told through stories of California’s past droughts and deluges, fires and floods, mudslides and dry lakebeds.


Using their original research which examines trends well before and beyond the 20th Century, the authors make practical, evidence-based predictions for California’s future, because they write both as scientists interested in the history of our current environment and as researchers who continue to look for physical traces of ancient wetlands which go deep into the ground beneath us. 


About the authors:


Dr. B. Lynn Ingram studies the history of climate change along the Pacific Rim, including California, Mexico, China, Tahiti, and the Great Barrier Reef.  Dr. Ingram was recently elected a Fellow of the California Academy of Science, and is a Senior Fulbright recipient. She has been a Professor in the Departments of Earth and Planetary Science and Geography at UC Berkeley since 1995. She is the author of more than forty published scientific articles on past climate change in California, the West, and other regions across the Pacific.


Dr. Malamud-Roam received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley.   She has published or presented over thirty scientific papers on the subject of climate history in California. Dr. Malamud-Roam has also taught courses in earth science and physical geography at U.C. Berkeley, Sonoma State University and at local community colleges.