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Dead bodies revealed as Lake Mead hits historic low amid drought

Friday, May 13th 2022, 9:00 am - The influence of climate change in the extreme drought conditions across the U.S. South West is detectable, scientists say.

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, is shrinking amid the widespread drought conditions across southwestern North America. According to U.S. Drought Monitor, every single region in Nevada experienced drought conditions that ranged from severe, extreme, to exceptional on May 12.

The Nevada reservoir provides drinking water for millions of people, generates hydroelectric power, and is essential for irrigating croplands. Water levels recently sank to roughly 320 metres above sea level, which is the lowest height recorded since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s.

One unexpected impact of the drought conditions is the discovery of crimes that have long been hidden beneath the water’s surface.

Hoover Dam (top right) and Lake Mead on May 11, 2021, on the Arizona and Nevada border. A high-water mark or bathtub ring is visible on the shoreline. (USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect) Hoover Dam (top right) and Lake Mead on May 11, 2021, on the Arizona and Nevada border. A high-water mark is visible on the shoreline. (USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect)

A body was found on May 1 and a press release from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) states that “a barrel containing human remains” was located in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

“Detectives believe the victim was killed sometime in the mid ‘70s to early ‘80s, based on clothing and footwear the victim was found with. Investigators are currently working to identify the victim. This is an ongoing investigation.”

Just a few days later, a sighting of “human skeletal remains” at Callville Bay in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area was reported to the National Park Service on May 7.

“The Clark County Medical Examiner has been contacted to determine the cause of death. The investigation is ongoing. No further information is available at this time,” the National Park Service stated in a press release.

Due to the prolonged drought with no immediate relief in sight, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Homicide Lieutenant Ray Spencer publicly stated that “it's likely that we will find additional bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead."

Lake Mead is typically around 372 metres above sea level when full. (Geri Lavrov/ Moment/ Getty Images) Lake Mead is typically around 372 metres above sea level when full. (Geri Lavrov/ Moment/ Getty Images)

HISTORIC DROUGHT CONDITIONS

High temperatures paired with low precipitation levels are to blame for the harsh drought conditions, but scientists say that there is more at play when several hundred years of soil moisture levels are analyzed.

A study published in Nature Climate Change stated that 19 per cent of the exceptional drought severity in 2021 can be attributed to anthropogenic climate trends, such as increasingly severe heat waves. The researchers also found that 2000–2021 was the driest 22-year period since at least the year 800 and the current drought will “very likely" continue through 2022.

The harsh conditions in the U.S. South West actually qualify as a megadrought, which is defined as "multi-decade drought events that contained periods of very high sensitivity and lasted longer than any event observed in the 19th or 20th centuries.”

“The turn-of-the-twenty-first-century drought would not be on a megadrought trajectory in terms of severity or duration without anthropogenic climate change,” the study concludes.

With files from CNN

Thumbnail credit: REUTERS/ Caitlin Ochs

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