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Human-induced climate change is diminishing US snowpack

Human-induced climate change is diminishing US snowpack

with consequential effects, as revealed by the study

Climate change has been identified as the primary driver behind the significant loss of snowpack in the United States, posing a severe threat to water resources and winter-based industries, according to a recent study. Snowpack, which stores water and gradually releases it during the spring and summer, plays a vital role in regional water systems and supports industries such as skiing. [1] [2]

Until now, researchers struggled to establish a definitive link between the observed decline in snowpack and human-induced climate change. However, a peer-reviewed study by Alexander Gottlieb and Justin Mankin now asserts that it is “virtually certain” that climate change caused by human activities is responsible for substantial snowpack loss in both the northeast and southwest regions of the United States. [1]

Mr. Gottlieb explained that they achieved this conclusion by meticulously analysing multiple datasets on snowpack melt, focusing on areas where these datasets consistently showed the same trends, thus increasing confidence in their findings. [2]

This study also raises alarm bells about the potential catastrophic consequences of reduced snowpack across the nation. The impact of declining snowpack is most pronounced in regions with relatively warm winter temperatures, such as the northeast and southwest US. Even slight variations in temperature in these areas can trigger rapid snowmelt. [2]

As Mr. Gottlieb emphasised, “As you get to these warmer temperatures closer to the freezing point, your snow becomes incredibly sensitive to even small changes in temperature.” Since these regions have already experienced temperature increases, it is expected that snow loss will accelerate as the planet continues to warm. [2]

The significance of snowpack loss lies in its impact on water supply. Reduced snowpack means less melted snow running off into water sources, leading to dire consequences in areas where snowmelt is a crucial component of the water infrastructure. [2]

In the southwest, where snowpack melt plays a substantial role, it serves as a bridge between winter precipitation and increasing water demand during warmer months. California, in particular, heavily relies on snowmelt as a primary water source. However, with ongoing climate warming and shrinking snowpacks, the state could face a water crisis. [2]

Mr. Gottlieb stated, “The train has left the station for regions such as the Southwestern and Northeastern United States. By the end of the 21st century, we expect these places to be close to snow-free by the end of March. We’re on that path and not particularly well adapted when it comes to water scarcity.” [1]

While the northeast’s water infrastructure is less dependent on snowmelt due to consistent precipitation, the trend could disrupt local industries like skiing and forestry, which rely on stable snow conditions and sub-freezing temperatures. [2]

Mr. Gottlieb further noted that entire economies built around the expectation of a dependable snowpack would be severely affected by these continued declines. The skiing industry, both in the US and Europe, has already suffered adverse effects from human-induced climate change. [2]

The study also highlights significant snowpack loss in central and eastern Europe, leading to the closure of numerous ski runs and resorts due to record-high January temperatures in recent years. [2]

Addressing this issue requires scientists and policymakers to thoroughly document and comprehend the tangible consequences of the human-induced climate crisis, as Mr. Gottlieb emphasised. He believes that we often underestimate the actual costs of climate change, not just in terms of snowpack but on a broader scale. [1] [2]

With 2023 being recorded as the hottest year globally, taking action to mitigate the human-driven climate crisis is imperative, not only to safeguard California’s water systems and Europe’s ski resorts but also to prevent the devastating consequences of extreme weather events affecting millions worldwide. [1] [2]

Continuing the discussion on this topic and on human-driven climate change is essential, as it sheds light on the steep costs of inaction, according to Mr. Gottlieb.

Source:

  1. Energy.gov. (n.d.). Snow-Capped Mountains at Risk from Climate Change. [online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/science/articles/snow-capped-mountains-risk-climate-change [Accessed 15 Jan. 2024].
  2. Pierce, D.W., Barnett, T.P., Hidalgo, H.G., Das, T., Bonfils, C., Santer, B.D., Bala, G., Dettinger, M.D., Cayan, D.R., Mirin, A., Wood, A.W. and Nozawa, T. (2008). Attribution of Declining Western U.S. Snowpack to Human Effects. Journal of Climate, 21(23), pp.6425–6444. doi:https://doi.org/10.1175/2008jcli2405.1.