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Melting snowpacks could threaten fresh water for billions

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WASHINGTON – Recent research suggests that melting snowpacks during the 21st century will threaten fresh water for billions of people from Central Asia, where snowpacks in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau are melting, to the western United States and alpine Europe, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Experts are concluding that the melting of Northern Hemisphere snowpacks will take place over the next 30 years.

This is from a recent study conducted by Stanford climate researcher Noah Diffenbaugh, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. He is a fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Snowpack-dependent California already is seeing this trend. It is the largest producer of agriculture products in the U.S. and the sixth largest agriculture exporter in the world.

“The Western U.S. exhibits the strongest increases in the occurrence of extremely low snow years in response to global warming,” Diffenbaugh said. “It also exhibits some of the strongest decreases in runoff that occurs during the growing season.”

With the effects primarily on the Northern Hemisphere, experts say that more than 50 percent of the world’s population would be affected.

“If we look at the systems that humans currently have in place for managing water resources,” Diffenbaugh said, “we see that much of the Northern Hemisphere is dependent on snowpack for water storage.

“Our results,” he said, “suggest that global warming will put increasing pressure on both flood control in the cold season and water availability in the dry season, and that these changes are likely to occur in some of the most densely populated and water-stressed areas of the planet.”

Researchers say that models strongly show low snow years will continue to increase in the snow-dominated areas of the Northern Hemisphere for this century, mostly affecting North America, western Eurasia and southern Eurasia by 2070.

One example is the glaciers in Bhutan in the Himalayas, where warmer temperatures are leading to more rainfall than snow. The combination of more rain and increased glacial melting will lead to flooding, which will affect villages at the base of the Himalayas.

“Much of the world’s population is just downstream of the Himalayas,” according to Summer Rupper, geology professor from Brigham Young University in Utah. “A lot of culture and history could be lost, not just for Bhutan but for neighboring nations facing the same risks.”

In addition to displacing major populations, too much water will be just as bad as too little water from the melting of the glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Rupper pointed out that if temperatures were to increase just one degree Celsius, the Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25 percent and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65 percent. These climate experts believe that such a temperature increase is considered likely.

Such studies also will be helpful in determining where new homes and power plants should be built, Rupper said. “Hopefully, good science can lead to good engineering solutions for the changes we’re likely to witness in the coming decades.”

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