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NEW Special Issue on Drought. Science magazine

Drought “is the death of the earth,” wrote the poet T. S. Eliot. A lack of water withers crops, kills trees, and dries up streams and lakes. Humans have long tried to cope by migrating to wetter regions or inventing new ways of moving water to where it is needed, including by pumping it out of the ground. But as human populations grow, climate change takes hold, and groundwater supplies shrink, droughts pose an increasingly complex challenge to people and the environment.

This special issue examines the science and social impacts of droughts—past, present, and future. Review articles assess our current knowledge of the causes of drought and consequences for forests and soils, how drought relates to political conditions, and options for improving drought resistance in crops. Additionally, three News Features highlight drought's influence on the rise and fall of an ancient South American empire, California's efforts to restore its depleted groundwater, and researchers' methods for predicting the famines that droughts sometimes bring.

Drought is defined by the absence of life-giving water. Some scholars believe that the forbidding presence of a drought that struck the United Kingdom in 1921 helped inspire Eliot's repeated allusions to water and drought in his poetry. That year, less than 260 millimeters of precipitation—one of the lowest levels ever recorded—fell in parts of England, prompting the writer to reflect on a natural force that has long shaped our planet.

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