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Scientists find profound evidence after drilling deep into centuries-old trees: 'Why study the past?'

"We can learn from the past and use our observations of trends and values to understand future risk."

"We can learn from the past and use our observations of trends and values to understand future risk."

Photo Credit: iStock

By boring into centuries-old trees across the American West, scientists have been able to study the climate going back to the mid-1500s, and they have found that the record temperatures over the last 20 years are not a normal occurrence.

What's happening?

Karen King, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and her colleagues recently published a paper in the journal Science Advances. It leaves no question as to whether or not the warming of the planet is responsible for the "hot droughts" and is only further evidence that human activity is responsible.

King and her team came to this conclusion by studying the rings of various trees. During especially warm summers, trees build dense cell walls to retain water. The density of the cell walls can give scientists a good idea about what kind of high temperatures that particular summer experienced, as the Washington Post reported.

The team found that the first 20 years of the 21st century was the hottest 20-year span they found in the tree cores.

"Why study the past? It's the idea that we can learn from the past and use our observations of trends and values to understand future risk," King told the Post, adding, "That's really the value of what we do."

Why is this concerning?

On top of the health and safety issues that can arise from extreme temperatures, the effect the temperatures are having on the water supply may be most concerning. 

The Colorado River supplies water to roughly 40 million Americans, and the river just seems to shrink every year. Rather than consistently work to figure out solutions, the states that depend on the river are fighting over how the water will be divvied up in the future.

While record winter snowpack in 2022 and recent heavy rains in parts of the Southwest helped, that's not enough to undo over 20 years of drought made worse by record-high temperatures.

Kevin Anchukaitis, a professor at the University of Arizona who co-wrote the paper, told the Post: "Our findings now demonstrate that the record-high temperatures driving recent 'hot droughts' are indeed unique, and the human fingerprint on these events implicates us in their intensity and their consequences." 

What can be done to help?

Everybody can help reverse this trend.

Switching to an electric vehicle makes a huge impact, but if you're not in a position to do that, walking or biking are great options, or using public transit if necessary.

Unplugging devices at home when not in use also makes a difference, a little at a time, toward decreasing the amount of harmful carbon pollution released into the atmosphere.

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