News Feature | June 2, 2014

Global Warming Killing Snowmelt As Water Source

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

snowreg

Global warming should be a concern for regions relying on snowmelt as a key water source, according to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change

"A new study by researchers at the University of Bristol shows how this precipitation greatly affects the amount of water flowing through rivers in these regions. If climate change reduces the amount of snowfall, the amount of water in reservoirs will also lessen," International Science Times reported

The researchers urged regions that rely on snowmelt to start paying attention. "Our finding is particularly relevant to regions where societally important functions, such ecosystem stability, hydropower, irrigation, and industrial or domestic water supply are derived from snowmelt," they said in a release

The problem is that rain may not be as useful to the water supply as snow is. The researchers "found preliminary evidence that when an increasing proportion of winter precipitation falls as rain, rather than snow, the amount of water flowing through drainage basins and into rivers in the U.S. undergoes a long-term decline," the Christian Science Monitor reported

The team studied 420 basins. They found that "as the fraction of precipitation falling as snow increased, so did stream flow. Then they focused on 97 basins for which snow made up more than 15 percent of a winter's precipitation. The pattern repeated, with these basins showing evidence of being quite sensitive to changes in the rain-snow mix," the report said. 

The effects of global warming need only be minor in order for the snowmelt patterns to change. "Global warming is very likely to reduce the amount of snow significantly in snow-affected catchments, even if temperatures rise only two degrees Celsius. The new research suggests that the amount of water in rivers will be reduced as a result of the decrease in snow," the researchers said in the release. 

The authors continued: "With more than one-sixth of the Earth's population depending on melt water for their water supply, and ecosystems that can be sensitive to streamflow alterations, the socio-economic consequences of a reduction in streamflow can be substantial."

For more, check out Water Online's Water Scarcity Solution Center.

Image credit: "Snow and shadows," Matei D. © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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