Cli­mate bound­ary shifts 140 miles to east

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Doyle Rice

A bound­ary that di­vides the hu­mid eastern U.S. and the dry west­ern Plains ap­pears to have shifted 140 miles to the east over the past cen­tury due to global warm­ing, new re­search sug­gests.

Sci­en­tists say it will al­most cer­tainly con­tinue shift­ing in com­ing decades, ex­pand­ing the arid cli­mate of the west­ern Plains into what we think of as the Mid­west. The im­pli­ca­tions for farm­ing could be huge.

The bound­ary line was first iden­ti­fied in 1878 by the Amer­i­can ge­ol­o­gist and ex­plorer John Wes­ley Pow­ell. At that time, it was at 100 de­grees west lon­gi­tude, also known as the 100th meridian.

“Pow­ell talked elo­quently about the 100th meridian, and this con­cept of a bound­ary line has stayed with us down to the cur­rent day,” said Richard Sea­ger, a cli­mate sci­en­tist at Columbia Univer­sity’s La­mont-Do­herty Earth Ob­ser­va­tory and lead au­thor of two new stud­ies about the shift­ing cli­mate bound­ary.

Run­ning south to north, the 100th meridian cuts through Texas, Ok­la­homa, Kansas, Ne­braska and the Dako­tas. It’s con­sid­ered the be­gin­ning of the Great Plains.

Both pop­u­la­tion and de­vel­op­ment are sparse west of the 100th meridian, where farms are larger and pri­mar­ily de­pend on crops like wheat that do well in arid cli­mates, the Yale School of Forestry & En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies said. To the more hu­mid east, more peo­ple and in­fra­struc­ture ex­ist. A large por­tion of the har­vest is mois­ture-lov­ing corn. The stud­ies ap­peared in the jour­nal

Earth In­ter­ac­tions, a pub­li­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal So­ci­ety.

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