Shrinking snowpack will affect agriculture and 2 billion people by 2060 if water management strategies aren’t adapted to the reality of global warming.
A new study featuring in the Environmental Research Letters journal draws attention on the critical matter of a declining snowpack and its effect on communities worldwide. The snowpack in addition to rainfall are critical factors for replenishing water basins around the world. These are the source of clean drinking water and water used for agriculture and other industries worldwide. While for some communities and the water basins they depend on rainfall is sufficient to meet their demands, others are not so lucky.
Global warming is affecting both rainfall and the accumulation of snowpack. Snow-dependent water basins are most in danger to suffer from the declining snowpack. The new study conducted by a team of international researchers and based on complex climate models pinpoints how shrinking snowpack will affect agriculture and 2 billion people by 2060. In the U.S., California, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas are the states most prone to suffer the consequences.
With the shortening of the timeframe favorable to snowfall throughout the year, snow falls later and starts melting sooner. The water cycle is thus affected, with the snowpack melting at higher elevations as well as washing away due to rainfall.
By 2060, this pattern is likely to affect regions spanning from California to the Middle East to Europe. The new study aims at providing authorities with a useful tool for water management policies to counter the negative effects on communities, agriculture and other industries. The research team conducted the analysis on 421 water basins of the northern hemisphere.
Climate models have shown that over 90 of them are in serious danger due to a declining snowpack. Overall, 2 billion people are dependent on the water coming from these sources. With little water left conflict is bound to arise. Some of the water basins mentioned in the study are those in central and northern California, the Ebro-Duero water basin, the Shatt al-Arab basin on which Middle East populations are highly dependent, including Iraqi and Syrian populations.
In support of the study David Garen with the United States Department of Agriculture stated that irrigation for agriculture is indeed a crucial factor to be taken into account. Farmland may suffer serious consequences in the future if water supplies are cut due to a diminishing snowpack. In the West, agriculture depends mostly on water from snowmelt. It is not only the reduction in the amount of water that is worrying, but also the timing of the snowmelt due to global warming.
With this in mind, authorities should prepare adequate water management policies and plans to minimize the effects of a diminishing snowpack and reduced rainfall altogether.
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