Snowpack shrinkage could leave 2 billion people in the northern hemisphere dying of thirst, a recent study has revealed.
The alarming findings were published on Thursday, November 12, in the online journal Environmental Research Letters. The scientific investigation was led by Justin Mankin, at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York.
By building and applying comprehensive climate models in conjunction with current water use patterns, researchers analyzed 421 drainage basins, and were able to develop projections regarding future water supplies and their impact on humans.
It was determined that a large portion of the population living in the northern hemisphere could be under threat, due to water shortage caused by global warming.
By 2060, approximately 2 billion people across central Asia, Western United States, southern Europe and the Middle East would have diminished water reserves because of dwindling snowpacks.
These masses of snow which usually accumulate at high altitudes during the winter season are essential because as they melt they support soil moisture, and they also influence water flow, as they feed rivers and streams.
They are a vital source of water for local communities, especially during spring and summer, since they have a close interdependence with underground aquifers and reservoirs.
Man-made activities such as the burning of fossil fuels or deforestation result in the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and as temperatures rise, snowfall becomes more and more uncommon. On the few occasions when this type of precipitation is present, little actually survives the melting process.
For example, when a drought emergency was issued in California on January 17, 2014, that was as a direct result of the fact that snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range had stood at just 14% of the average value.
Even worse, for the first time in 75 years, on April 2015 researchers couldn’t detect any snow at the Phillips Station snow course. Consequently, the State Water Project announced that it would only be able to supply water for around 20% of its 25 million Californian customers.
It appears that the situation will grow even more worrisome, as researchers anticipate that 97 water basins which rely on snowfall face a 67% risk of being severely affected, as climate change continues in the following decades.
On the American continent, the reservoirs which are the most endangered are those pertaining to the Colorado River and Rio Grande, as well as those in central and northern California.
Across the globe, there are other water supplies under threat, such as the Ebro and Duero basins (which provide water supply to southern France, Spain and Portugal), the Shatt al-Arab basin (essential for Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Iraq and Iran) and the Atlas basin (in Morocco).
The only saving grace is the fact that rainfall is expected to meet this growing demand for now, in regions such as China, Russia, northern Europe, southeast Asia and North America.
However, as global warming escalates, bringing about severe drought and extremely high air temperatures, water supply will be under great pressure.
According to the study authors, it is essential to manage water supplies more carefully, by promoting sustainable water consumption and recycling, and by opting for less water-intensive crops.
If current weather trends persist unabated, snowpacks will be severely depleted, so they will no longer be able to contribute to water reserves.
These findings come ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21), which will be held between November 30 and December 11, in Paris, France.
The ultimate goal of this Convention is to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that global warming doesn’t surpass 2 degrees Celsius, by 2100, in comparison with levels reported before the Industrial Revolution.
Image Source: Flickr