According to a new study, water resources are becoming more challenging to predict in the Northern Hemisphere's snow-dominated region due to the impacts of climate change.
Snow is accumulating but failing to generate reliable runoff; the amount of water resources in areas like the Rocky Mountains also depends on rainfall and runoff.
Lead author William Wieder, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says:
"Water managers will be at the whim of individual precipitation events instead of having four-to-six months lead time to anticipate snowmelt and runoff. Water management systems in snow-dominated regions are based on the predictability of snowpack and runoff, and much of that predictability could go away with climate change.”
Toward the end of the century, this decline could become so pronounced that the amount of water contained in parts of the Rocky Mountain snowpack at the end of winter could plunge by over 80%.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Mountain snowpack is a key contributor to the water cycle of the Western U.S. because the water stored in these layers throughout the winter is discharged as runoff in the spring and summer.
Additionally, any changes in runoff and streamflow will have effects on ecosystems that rely on water from snow, and the rise in snow-free days and longer growing seasons will also put stress on water resources — drying out the soil and increasing fire risk.