Sunday, October 21, 2007

NY Times: The Future is Drying Up

Scientists sometimes refer to the effect a hotter world will have on this country’s fresh water as the other water problem, because global warming more commonly evokes the specter of rising oceans submerging our great coastal cities. By comparison, the steady decrease in mountain snowpack — the loss of the deep accumulation of high-altitude winter snow that melts each spring to provide the American West with most of its water — seems to be a more modest worry.

This fascinating and chilling article from the New York Times Sunday magazine surveys the effects that a warming climate is already having on the American West. Among the worrisome observations and predictions:
  • 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear
  • a "catastrophic reduction in the flow of the Colorado River" has already caused the level of Lake Mead to drop by 100 feet and threatens the 30 million people who depend on Colorado River water
  • groundwater tables are dropping all over the west and those around Denver will be exhausted by 2050
  • dendrochronology suggests that western drought cycles often last 60 years
  • virtually all climate models show the west getting drier over the next century
The article focused on the Colorado basin, but this Seattle Times piece suggests similar issues in the Columbia River basin of the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand the snow pack in the northwern Rockies was 25% over normal this year.

No comments: