Global warming is unsettling the natural balance of snowmelt
Around 2 billion people across the world depend on northern hemisphere for their water supplies.
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A new research suggests that shrinking snowpacks may lead to water shortage and increase the risk of declining supplies.
Snow on large mountain chains is an important natural reservoir. Usually, water is remained stored in the form of snow on high elevated areas during cold months. The snow gradually melts in spring and summer season and releases water when human demand is at its peak. But global warming is unsettling the natural balance.
New study suggests that in many areas, more rain is falling instead of snow and washes away directly. And if the snow falls it settles at higher elevations and melts earlier. Scientists have observed declining snow accumulations in many regions from Rocky Mountains in Colorado to Northern Montana as well as Himalayas and in California are disappearing due to persistent global warming.
The researchers from The Earth Institute Colombia University analyzed the far-reaching impact of the shrinking snowpacks both on the basis of changes in snowmelt runoff and how many people consume water from it.
Researchers looked at 421 drainage basins across northern hemisphere and combined the data about present use of water with climate models. They found 97 of those natural reservoirs are critical water supplies for 2 billion people and there are two third chances that they will decline if the water demand continues the same way.
Researchers have further narrowed it down to 32 basins which are most sensitive to changes in climate and are at great risk. These basins are scattered around the regions of U.S., Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Northern Turkey.
The study was focused on human water supplies but lack of snowpack may have much wider consequences on ecosystems across the world.
"Water managers in a lot of places may need to prepare for a world where the snow reservoir no longer exists.” lead author Justin Mankin, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Earth Institute said.
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"Managers need to be prepared for the possibility of multi-decadal decreases in snow water supply. But at the same time, they could have large multi-decadal increases. Both of those outcomes are entirely consistent with a world with global warming."