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Water Resources to Become Less Predictable with Climate Change

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Water resources will fluctuate increasingly and become more and more difficult to predict in snow-dominated regions across the Northern Hemisphere by later this century, according to a comprehensive new climate change study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The research team found that, even in regions that keep receiving about the same amount of precipitation, streamflow will become more variable and unpredictable. As snowpack recedes in a warmer future and fails to provide reliable runoff, the amount and timing of water resources will become increasingly reliant on periodic episodes of rain.

“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,” said NCAR scientist Will Wieder, the lead author. “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.”

Observations show that snowpack is already melting earlier, and even declining in many regions. This decline will become so pronounced toward the end of the century that the amount of water contained in snowpack at the end of an average winter in parts of the U.S. Rocky Mountains could plummet by […]

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