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Winters warmer than -8C could lead to water shortages: Study

Scientists have found that winters warmer than -8C could lead to water shortages. River basins around the world that once regularly

By Wahid Bhat
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Winters warmer than -8C could lead to water shortages: Study

Scientists have found that winters warmer than -8C could lead to water shortages. River basins around the world that once regularly experienced snow are now increasingly witnessing their snowpack shrinking. A new study has found that climate change is the culprit.

Winter is usually a time when we expect to see snowfall, which later melts and replenishes our water supplies. However, when winters are warmer, less snow accumulates. The snow that does fall often melts too early, leaving less water available later in the year.

The study of snow amounts since 1981, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, concluded that many of the world’s most populous basins are hovering on the precipice of rapid snow declines.

The study discovered a crucial threshold for snowpacks in the Northern Hemisphere's future: -8 degrees Celsius. When the average winter temperature is colder than that in certain places, the snowpack often survives as it's cold enough. However, places where the winter average exceeds -8C tend to witness their winter wonderlands melting. This process is happening quickly.

Upmanu Lall, Director of the Columbia Water Center, states: "In fact, water is the root of most climate change impacts. When people discuss how climate change affects agricultural output, sea level rise, wildfires, and extreme weather, they're essentially telling a water story."

Humidity and climate change affect rainfall

A research conducted at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory discovered that increased humidity could intensify the heat in certain regions, making it intolerable. This is due to the fact that high humidity hampers the cooling effect of our sweat.

Climate change, by altering air temperatures and circulation patterns, will also shift the distribution of rainfall. Some regions, like the American West, Southwest, and Southeast, are predicted to become drier. On the other hand, the northern parts of the U.S. and the Midwest are likely to see more rainfall. These changes in precipitation are already being observed.

El Niño and global warming blamed for lack of snow in Kashmir

Lall says, "These changes in water supply, demand, and quality will exacerbate our current problem, which is our country's failing, aging water infrastructure. We simply cannot handle even historical variation, let alone what people are projecting for the future."

Estimates suggest that 1.6 million Americans currently lack regular access to safe drinking water. Michigan State University conducted a study and found that due to factors such as climate change, aging infrastructure and others, as many as 40.9 million American households may not afford water and wastewater services in 2022.

Climate change demands sustainable water strategies

This is a big problem for areas that rely on winter snowpack for their water supply. As global temperatures rise, the moisture in the soil evaporates at faster rates. This leads to more frequent and severe drought conditions.

But that’s not all. Climate change is expected to cause more frequent, heavy, and intense rains. However, more water will fall than vegetation and soil can absorb, leading to floods rather than alleviating water shortages.

So, what can we do about this? It’s crucial to develop comprehensive strategies for sustainable water management, considering these changing climatic conditions. This includes investing in methods to increase short-term storage of water, retaining more of the overabundance from winter and spring to relieve summer shortages.

A recent study from Harvard projects that nearly half of the 204 fresh water basins in the United States may not meet their monthly water demand by 2071. This is partly due to growing populations and also due to the effects of climate change. The study found that many U.S. regions may see their water supplies shrink by a third of their current size around 50 years from now, while the demand continues to rise. The authors warn that this could present serious challenges for agriculture.

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