tagged w/ snowpack
Dozens of scientists took a bus early Wednesday to the middle of the snow-covered Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield, stepping into a site that’s known as Canada’s hydrological apex.
Along the edges, there are signs the glacier was once wider.
At the bottom, markers show how much it’s retreated — more than 1.5 kilometres in the past 125 years.
The tour — led by the University of Calgary’s Shawn Marshall and Michael Demuth of the Geological Survey of Canada — is a stark reminder of how quickly Alberta’s Rocky Mountain glacier cover is melting away and what it could mean for future water supplies.
“In the last 30 years, this retreat has really accelerated,” said Marshall, a geography professor and Canada research chair in climate change. “It’s hard to imagine the Rockies not dressed up in white like this.
“It’s an integral part of this landscape. It affects the stream ecology and the water resources where we live.”
The concerns are being discussed this week at Storm Warning: Water, Energy and Climate Security in a Changing World, a conference with 70 internationally known experts being held in Banff. Hosted by the University of Regina in partnership with the UN Water for Life Decade in Canada and the University of Texas in Austin, its aim is to come up with ways to deal with the implications of climate change.
Robert Sandford, Canada’s representative for the United Nations Water for Life initiative, said the warming trend is changing the way water is moving through the hydrological cycle.
“These changes, in tandem, are likely to have a far more damaging and exponentially more costly effect on our economy and quality of life than we presently anticipate,” he said.
Sandford said the changes, often caused by large-scale land-use changes, could lead to more extreme weather.
“Even small storms will trigger larger events,” he said. “What were once one-in-500-year events could become more frequent, and such events will have a staggering effect on the economy of the region.”
But Sandford suggested the work of researchers such as Demuth and Marshall could provide some answers.
In association with Parks Canada, the pair is in the second year of a four-year project analyzing the volume of ice contained within the glaciers of the Rockies. The goal is to be better able to determine the future water supply in major rivers.
Back at the Athabasca Glacier, the most visited glacier in North America, Marshall said it’s an important site.
“They serve as natural reservoirs,” he said. “They hold the snow back and release it in August and September when it starts to dry out. It’s a really nice natural function. It would be a shame to actually see a hydro-reservoir behind us rather than the glacier that we see, but it’s actually acting in that capacity and that may be what the future holds.”
Marshall’s earlier research has shown there will be an 82 per cent decline in the area covered by glaciers by 2100.
“Some of these glaciers will hang in through the century; some won’t,” he said. “Some of the smaller ones have already disappeared in the Rockies.”
It’s estimated 300 glaciers have been lost in the past three decades.
More at the link
The tarsands are surely not helping this.Dozens of scientists took a bus early Wednesday to the middle of the snow-covered... more
In a dramatic reversal of fortune compared to last year, an unusually dry winter is causing the level of Lake Mead, Nevada, to decline, making water managers increasingly anxious about supplying water to the thirsty Southwest.
The latest U.S. Drought Outlook shows continued dry conditions in the Southwest are likely for the rest of the winter.
During the past three years, the level of Lake Mead has followed a boom and bust cycle, dropping to a record low in 2010 during an intense drought, then recovering during 2011 thanks to record mountain snowfall, and now dropping again in the midst of a dry winter.
According to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, water managers are forecasting the lake level to drop by about 13 feet due to the dry winter so far. As the newspaper reported:
"In December, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was predicting a roughly 11-foot rise in Lake Mead over the next year. Now the bureau expects the nation's largest man-made reservoir to shed about 13 feet by January 2013.
One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, which is enough water to supply two average valley homes for one year. At current consumption levels, the 2.45 million acre-foot reduction in Lake Mead's forecast since last month represents enough water to supply the entire Las Vegas Valley for a decade."
During the past 11 years, a particularly dry and warm climate has lingered in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, leading to reduced flow along the Colorado River. In fact, scientists have already shown that the stress on the water resources in the Southwest region is consistent with the effects of a warmer climate, and that increased emissions of heat-trapping gases are linked to recent changes in river flows and winter snow pack. Adding to the region's water challenges is the fact that cities that draw water from Lake Mead, such as Las Vegas, have grown in recent years and are further taxing the water supply.
More at the linkIn a dramatic reversal of fortune compared to last year, an unusually dry winter is... more
The wind outside was bellowing, puffing dry snow into furious plumes, when Mike Gillespie stepped out of his sport utility vehicle.
Gillespie, the snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado, has visited this spot along U.S. 40 just below the Berthoud Pass summit at the same time each year for 28 years to measure the snowpack. In his first year, when snow piled up twice as much as normal, it took a heroic effort just to climb the 200 yards to the measurement site.
Thursday, it took about five minutes.
The first manual snow sampling of the season Thursday confirmed what automated sensors have been suggesting for weeks: The water available in Colorado's snowpack is significantly below average.
Statewide, snowpack is 73 percent of average. That ranks as the fourth-driest measurement in the past 30 years, according to the conservation service. No river basin in Colorado is above average.
No year in the past three decades that has started this far below average has recovered to average snowpack by the start of spring, Gillespie said.
"It's pretty evident that this is one of the drier years," Gillespie said. "It's not looking like a good start at all to the year."
Gillespie, who started doing snow surveys in Wyoming 31 years ago, has the experience to know. But Thursday was the last survey he will do. As of the end of today, Gillespie is retired.
That is a substantial loss of institutional knowledge in the obscure but important world of Colorado snowpack analysis. Gillespie's snowpack measurements are closely watched by Colorado water managers, who use them to determine how much water will be available in the spring and summer.
Gillespie said his analyses can predict the amount of water in the spring runoff within about 10 percent.
Every year, Gillespie has overseen an effort to manually measure snowpack at more than 100 high-altitude
Just below the Berthoud Pass summit, Mike Ardison fights the wind and snow Thursday to lay out 25-foot intervals between measuring sites. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)"snow courses" across the state. He also has been instrumental in expanding the state's use of automated snowpack sensors, which now number about 110 and provide daily snowpack updates.
"That has not been glitch-free," said Klaus Wolter, a climatologist at the University of Colorado, who praised Gillespie's commitment to providing an accurate, comprehensive snowpack picture. "It has been important to maintain those snow courses."
Indeed, there is a certain vintage flair to Gillespie's method. The tools he uses are simple: a specially marked measuring tube and a basic scale. Measurements are written down by hand.
It is understated science, much like the understated scientist who performs it.
Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist, said Gillespie brought a sense of competence to the high stakes of water-supply prediction and an aura of calmness to often panicky meetings about drought or flooding.
"He was just always steady and reliable," Doesken said. "You could always count on the data."
On Thursday, Gillespie's measurements on Berthoud Pass matched what the sensors had been saying.
Snow depths measured in the teens and 20s of inches, with an average water content of 6.3 inches. That is barely more than half as much as the 10.5 inches of water content in the snow at the same spot at the same time last year. Sapling trees and fallen logs poked above the snow line on the course.
More at the linkThe wind outside was bellowing, puffing dry snow into furious plumes, when Mike... more
Consider it a taste of the future: the fire, smoke, drought, dust, and heat that have made life unpleasant, if not dangerous, from Louisiana to Los Angeles. New records tell the tale: biggest wildfire ever recorded in Arizona (538,049 acres), biggest fire ever in New Mexico (156,600 acres), all-time worst fire year in Texas history (3,697,000 acres).
The fires were a function of drought. As of summer’s end, 2011 was the driest year in 117 years of record keeping for New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, and the second driest for Oklahoma. Those fires also resulted from record heat. It was the hottest summer ever recorded for New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, as well as the hottest August ever for those states, plus Arizona and Colorado.
Virtually every city in the region experienced unprecedented temperatures, with Phoenix, as usual, leading the march toward unlivability. This past summer, the so-called Valley of the Sun set a new record of 33 days when the mercury reached a shoe-melting 110º F or higher. (The previous record of 32 days was set in 2007.)
And here’s the bad news in a nutshell: if you live in the Southwest or just about anywhere in the American West, you or your children and grandchildren could soon enough be facing the Age of Thirst, which may also prove to be the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization. No kidding.
If that gets you down, here’s a little cheer-up note: the end is not yet nigh.
In fact, this year the weather elsewhere rode to the rescue, and the news for the Southwest was good where it really mattered. Since January, the biggest reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead, backed up by the Hoover Dam and just 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas, has risen almost 40 feet. That lake is crucial when it comes to watering lawns or taking showers from Arizona to California. And the near 40-foot surge of extra water offered a significant upward nudge to the Southwest’s water reserves.
The Colorado River, which the reservoir impounds, supplies all or part of the water on which nearly 30 million people depend, most of them living downstream of Lake Mead in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Tijuana, and scores of smaller communities in the United States and Mexico.
Back in 1999, the lake was full. Patricia Mulroy, who heads the water utility serving Las Vegas, rues the optimism of those bygone days. “We had a fifty-year, reliable water supply,” she says. “By 2002, we had no water supply. We were out. We were done. I swore to myself we’d never do that again.”
In 2000, the lake began to fall -- like a boulder off a cliff, bouncing a couple of times on the way down. Its water level dropped a staggering 130 feet, stopping less than seven feet above the stage that would have triggered reductions in downstream deliveries. Then -- and here’s the good news, just in case you were wondering -- last winter, it snowed prodigiously up north in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
The spring and summer run-off from those snowpacks brought enormous relief. It renewed what we in the Southwest like to call the Hydro-Illogic cycle: when drought comes, everybody wrings their hands and promises to institute needed reform, if only it would rain a little. Then the drought breaks or eases and we all return to business as usual, until the cycle comes around to drought again.
So don’t be fooled. One day, perhaps soon, Lake Mead will renew its downward plunge. That’s a certainty, the experts tell us. And here’s the thing: the next time, a sudden rescue by heavy snows in the northern Rockies might not come. If the snowpacks of the future are merely ordinary, let alone puny, then you’ll know that we really are entering a new age.
And climate change will be a major reason, but we’ll have done a good job of aiding and abetting it. The states of the so-called Lower Basin of the Colorado River -- California, Arizona, and Nevada -- have been living beyond their water means for years. Any departure from recent decades of hydrological abundance, even a return to long-term average flows in the Colorado River, would produce a painful reckoning for the Lower Basin states. And even worse is surely on the way.
Just think of the coming Age of Thirst in the American Southwest and West as a three-act tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.
We have already experienced close to 1º C of that increase, which accounts, at least in part, for last summer’s colossal fires and record-setting temperatures -- and it’s now clear that we’re just getting started.
The simple rule of thumb for climate change is that wet places will get wetter and dry places drier. One reason the dry places will dry is that higher temperatures mean more evaporation. In other words, there will be ever less water in the rivers that keep the region’s cities (and much else) alive. Modeling already suggests that by mid-century surface stream-flow will decline by 10% to 30%.
Independent studies at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute in California and the University of Colorado evaluated the viability of Lake Mead and eventually arrived at similar conclusions: after about 2026, the risk of “failure” at Lake Mead, according to a member of the Colorado group, “just skyrockets.” Failure in this context would mean water levels lower than the dam’s lowest intake, no water heading downstream, and the lake becoming a “dead pool.”
more at the linkConsider it a taste of the future: the fire, smoke, drought, dust, and heat that have... more
Rising winter temperatures are shrinking Himalayan glaciers in Indian Kashmir at "alarming" speeds, threatening water supplies to vast tracts of India and Pakistan, according to a new study.
The Kolahoi glacier, the largest in the region, has shrunk by 2,63 square kilometres in the past three decades to just more than 11 square kilometres, said the study presented at a three-day international workshop on climate change that began on Monday in the Kashmiri summer capital Srinagar.
Himalayan glaciers feed into Asia's nine largest rivers that flow to China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma.
The Kolahoi glacier is shrinking 0,08 square kilometres a year, "which is an alarming speed", said the three-year study led by Shakil Ramsoo, associate professor of geology at Kashmir University.
"Other small Kashmir glaciers are also shrinking and the main reason is that the winter temperature in Kashmir is rising," said the study, citing an increase of 1.1 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years.
The quantity of snowfall in Kashmir, known as the "Switzerland of the East", has clearly fallen in recent decades.
Despite occasional heavy snowfall, the inability of snow to freeze and develop into hard and longer-lasting crystals owing to higher temperatures has resulted in faster meltdown, say experts.
"If you talk about Kashmir and you look at the statistics of climate change, it is melting faster here than any other place in the world," said Sally Dotre, an expert from Cambridge University.
"And that's going to have a dramatic effect in Kashmir and Pakistan, because it is already affecting water levels," Dotre said.
Water levels in almost all the rivers in Indian Kashmir have decreased by two-thirds during the last 40 yearsRising winter temperatures are shrinking Himalayan glaciers in Indian Kashmir at... more