Dwindling Snowpack Around the World Threatens the Water Supply for 2 Billion People

Researchers at Columbia and Stanford universities say 97 of the world's freshwater basins are at risk of diminished supplies unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

by VICE News
Nov 19 2015, 9:55pm

Photo by Narendra Shrestha/EPA

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As global warming brings about a decline in snowpacks around the world, billions of people face a high risk of shrinking water supplies in the coming century, a recent study has found.

Scientists from Stanford University and Columbia University's Earth Institute said that if greenhouse gas emissions continue along their current trajectory, about 97 snow-dependent basins would face more than 67 percent chance of their water supplies declining, potentially impacting spring and summer water availability for nearly 2 billion people.

"Water managers in a lot of places may need to prepare for a world where the snow reservoir no longer exists," said Justin Mankin, lead study author and a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University.

As the planet warms, snowpacks are melting and evaporation rates increasing. Precipitation that would have fallen as snow instead comes as rain.

The areas projected to be worst hit by dwindling snowpack are the San Joaquin basin in Western United States, the Colorado River basin that spans several US states and Mexico, and the Syr Darya basin of Central Asia.

Water stress has been linked to conflict, particularly the Middle East. A severe drought in Syria spurred a massive migration to already crowded urban areas, which fed the ranks of disenfranchised people that rose up against the regime of Bashar al Assad.

"[Water managers] need to be prepared for the possibility of multi-decadal decreases in snow water supply," said Mankin. "But at the same time, they could have large multi-decadal increases. Both of those outcomes are entirely consistent with a world with global warming."

Related: These Nations Are About to Start Running Out of Water

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