Swings in Climate Cycles Could Jeopardize the Socioeconomic Stability
in the Northern Great Plains Region
reported by Joseph Littbarski
(GRAND FORKS, ND) -- Recently completed studies reconstructing
the historical climatic trends for the last 2000 years in the northern Great Plains show that frequent alternating climatic
cycles of drought and wet periods are typical for this area. These
cycles could last more than 160 years, and future ones could be
more severe than those on our very limited record books.
results of this study suggest that this region is likely to
experience a significant drought within the next few decades. Without timely water management strategies, the drought conditions
will limit the socioeconomic development of the region and may
even threaten the sustainability of current living conditions.
3-year project was conducted on lake bottom sediments of Devils
Lake, North Dakota, by the University
of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) and the St. Croix Watershed Research Station at
the Science Museum of Minnesota.
results of this study support previous studies and provide more
precise definition of the climatic cycles we have touted for over
three decades," said EERC Director Gerald Groenewold.
region is obviously in a wet cycle," said Ed Steadman, EERC
Senior Research Advisor. "In spite of the devastating effect
of reoccurring floods in recent history, a long-term drought will
be far more catastrophic to our region," he said.
in North Dakota and western Minnesota remains relatively stable,
but highly populated areas in eastern North Dakota such as Fargo
and West Fargo are growing significantly. With that, there is
a substantial increase in demand for water supplies. Water demand
for the Red River Valley is expected to more than double by the
resources in North Dakota were extensively depleted during the
drought of the 1930s to offset the water shortage. For example,
the Moorhead Aquifer dropped from 6 feet below ground level in
1913 to more than 190 feet below in 1948. Similarly, the West
Fargo Aquifer system has declined dramatically as well. Aquifers
in the Fargo area have decreased about 2 feet a year for the past
withdrawal combined with water table decline in larger areas do
not allow for aquifer replenishment," said Jarda Solc, EERC
Senior Research Manager. "These trends are even more alarming
with respect to the fact that the regional hydrologic system,
as documented in the EERC project, is currently at its wet stage
and the aquifer usage will considerably increase once the system
moves to the dry cycle," he said.
is proving that dramatic swings in climate cycles are inevitable
in the northern Great Plains," Groenewold said. "Without
the development and implementation of substantial, long-term,
regional water management strategies, economic growth will, at
best, be limited. Indeed, we may not be able to maintain our current
economy. The public and decision makers need to recognize the
magnitude, severity, and urgency of this issue. Our greatest
challenge is to admit we have a problem."