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Why is the Southwest One of the Most 'Climate-Challenged' Regions in the United States?

UNLV’s Tom Piechota, lead author of the 2014 National Climate Assessment Southwest Section, discusses the impacts of climate change on the region.
Research  |  May 16, 2014  |  By UNLV Media Relations
Media Contact: UNLV Media Relations (702) 895-3102

The Southwestern United States faces a multitude of ill effects associated with climate change, including rising annual temperature averages, a decline in water reserves, diminished agricultural yields, and an increase in wildfires, according to Thomas Piechota, the lead author of the Southwest Section of the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

The 2014 National Climate Assessment, released by the White House and U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) last week, explores what each of the eight regions in the U.S. faces in the coming decades as a result of climate change.

Piechota, a renowned sustainability expert and UNLV’s Vice President for Research and Economic Development, said that the overwhelming heat and lack of rainfall are among the top reasons the Southwest is one of the most “climate-challenged” regions in the United States. 

“Snowpack and stream flow amounts are projected to decline in the region, decreasing water supplies for cities and affecting agriculture and ecosystems,” Piechota said. “The Southwest produces more than half the nation’s high-value specialty crops, which are irrigation-dependent and particularly vulnerable to extremes of moisture, cold, and heat. We can expect reduced yields from increased temperatures and increasing competition for scarce water supplies that will displace jobs in some rural communities.” 

The Southwest region, which includes the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, might encounter other byproducts of climate change, such as insect problems and coastal flooding.

The assessment presents choices on how the Southwest can adapt to climate change. For example, continued development and use of geothermal, wind, and solar power resources could reduce water withdrawals needed to cool thermal power plants, which use about 40 percent of surface water withdrawn in the United States, according to the assessment.

About the report

The National Climate Assessment contains input from more than 300 experts and was overseen by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee. The 840-page report outlines current climate status and projected climate changes for each of the eight designated regions of the United States. 

Learn more about on the 2014 National Climate Assessment