An alarming new study reveals that the snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains is at its lowest level in 500 years.
California has been in the midst of a historic drought for the past few years, and it has been placing considerable strain on the state’s water systems. According to a report from Time, however, the problem may go deeper than just a lack of rain. A new study has shown that snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains is at the lowest level it’s ever been in the past 500 years.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers examined data derived from tree rings over the last 500 years to compare historical snowpack levels with levels this year. Tree rings can reveal a wide range of data about previous climates because they expand during warm years and contract during cold years. This allowed scientists to estimate the relative level of snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas over the last five centuries.
The researchers, from the University of Arizona, expected 2015 to be on the low side, but they were not expecting the year to break the 500-year record. California Governor Jerry Brown announced new water restrictions in response to the catastrophic drought using the snowless mountains as a backdrop. The meadow where the announcement took place was historically covered in up to five feet of snow at that time during the year.
Snowfall is connected to the drought in a serious way. Water accumulates in the form of snow throughout the winter, which feeds rivers and streams in the springtime as it melts. Without snowpack to feed the state’s waterways, the effects of a drought become incredibly pronounced.