NASA study reveals climate change is worsening floods and droughts (includes video story)

Climate change and warmer temperatures are worsening floods and droughts, according to a recent NASA study.

Dr. Matthew Rodell and Dr. Bailing Li published their research this week. They used GRACE and GRACE-FO satellite images to compare the total water storage on Earth, including soil moisture, snow and ocean circulation. With the satellite images, they were able to identify over 1000 wet and dry events from the past 20 years and see the spatial extent, intensity and duration of each one.

Graph from

They found that floods and droughts increased in intensity and frequency in recent years because of warmer temperatures.

“When you have warmer air during a drought, the air can hold more water so a dry land will lose more water and it’ll dry more quickly,” Dr. Rodell said. “The flip side of that is during a wet event, the warmer air can transfer more moisture into a region.”

According to the study, tropical zones and continental zones will have more frequent wet events while tropical and dry zones will have more droughts.

Four major Köppen–Geiger climate zones. (Graph from Nature Water)

“It makes sense scientifically that a warmer world is going to cause more intense wet and dry events, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” said Dr. Rodell.

As more carbon dioxide is pumped into the air, it will continue to warm. Temperatures need to be stabilized first so the warming can eventually stop.

“This study isn’t a one-and-done,” said Dr. Rodell. “It’s really important to continue to monitor how the water cycles are responding to climate change so that’ll help us be more prepared and more resilient because the world is changing. It’s really valuable to have that information so we can adapt and prepare for it and reduce the damages.”

Associate Editor

Sofia Zuñiga is a Digital Journalism student, completing a minor in Social Media and E-Marketing Analytics, and a certificate in Queer Studies. Currently, she is an NBCU DEI fellow, with an interest in LGBTQ topics and social issues.