EarthLabs > Drought > Lab 6: Drying of the American West > 6D: Is Drought Here to Stay?

Drying of the American West

Part D: Is Drought Here to Stay?

Climate patterns in the Western United States have clearly changed. Water managers are wondering how long this new pattern will continue, and what it means for the Southwest's long-term future. Some scientists predict that the west may be entering a period of persistent drought with climate conditions similar to those that resulted in "megadroughts" during the medieval period. Extended droughts that lasted several decades are thought to be responsible for the migration of indigenous groups out of the area.

  1. In February of 2008, National Geographic magazine published a beautifully illustrated report about water use and drought in the West. If possible, obtain a hard copy of that issue of the magazine to read the article and peruse the pictures.

    You can also access the article, Drying of the West online.

  2. Start by viewing the photo gallery that accompanies the article. View the photographs and read each caption to understand the visual evidence of the drought.
  3. Choose one of the photos in the gallery that interests or surprises you. Go to the text of the article to find additional information about the topic illustrated by the photo you chose.
  4. Stop and Think Questions

    13. List the title of the photograph you chose and write a short paragraph to summarize the issue it illustrates.
  5. Watch a video podcast from Scripps Institution of Oceanography that accompanies the article, "Welcome to the New Normal."

  6. Skim through the text of the Welcome to the New Normal article and view the images and captions.

    Stop and Think Questions

    14. Summarize the positive outlook with which the researchers end the article.

Optional Extensions

  • Learn more about Lake Mead from the National Park Service.
  • Read a 2015 NASA Earth Observatory article Losses in Lake Mead. View recents images and graphs showing Lake Mead's water levels.
  • View a 2011 video from Scripps The Outlook for Lake Mead
  • Download and use satellite images and measure the change in the surface area of Lake Mead using ImageJ software. Complete instructions and more information can be found at Eyes in the Sky2