How The Climate Crisis Is Causing The Colorado River To Shrink

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Recent articles claim that the flow of the Colorado river is gradually becoming unsteady due to the combined effects of global warming and climatic variation. The celebrated river, which also serves as the primary source of water for millions of Americans, has been reported to have been drying up accelerating the issues of severe water shortages.

The advanced numerical modeling, coupled with various simulation trials, has visualised the shift in the pathway of how the 1450 mile long river out-flux is changing.

The primary reason behind the change in the pattern is credited to the human-induced global warming effects. The emissions of higher volume of greenhouse gases result in a higher evaporation rate of the water from the river source by absorbing more of the sun’s energy. It’s the same as feeling more thirsty in the summer than in the winter, because of the temperature profile.

The Colorado river forming a horse shoe in the Grand Canyon. (Photo: saskiatolhuis1/Pixabay)

Fortunately, we have access to an unlimited amount of water, which we can replenish with. This does not apply to the case of rivers, since our natural resources are not constant.

The geography of Colorado is fascinating. The area incepts with an elevation in the Rocky Mountains and then plunges through ranch lands and canyons, including the Grand Canyon. The canyon used to empty into the Gulf of California in Mexico years ago. However, now it drains very distantly to the Gulf due to the manipulating of the water stream, making it accessible for agriculture in the US, as well as its cities (the entire range from Denver to Tijuana).

The loss of Albedo as snow and ice melt away is diminishing the flow of Colorado by 9.5% for every 100C of warming, according to research promulgated in science.

The pre-industrial era had already recorded a 1oC rise in the mean temperature and data sciences predict that the value will evolve to be 3oC, by the end of the century. As far as the Colorado scenario is concerned, the elevating risk of the water shortages cannot be compensated with the increase in the amount of rainfall since that is, in turn, related to snow, which indirectly is functionalised in the river water.

The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, in Nevada. (Photo: Good Free Photos)

Brad Udall, a senior scientist at Colorado State University, said, “This has important implications for water users and managers alike. More broadly, these results tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possibly can. We’ve wasted nearly 30 years bickering over the Science. The Science is crystal clear – we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.”

Sources claim that the upper basin supplies water to around 40 million people. Apart from the source of water, the entire ecosystem supports job security for more than 16 million people. It feeds the two largest water reserves in the US, Lake Powell, and Lake Mead, with the latter supplying Las Vegas with almost all of its water.

The snowpacks have been the reinforcing agent for the water source of the Colorado River. Not only on each spring does the snow replenish the river, but it also acts as a threshold barrier to prevent flooding. As the climate heats up, the river is evaporating, and the risk of damaging wildfires is elevated.

With the increase in urbanisation and excessive use of our natural resources, we are not only pushing the planet to experience another mass extinction, but also bringing down the viability of our next generation. Lake Mead, the vast reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam, has dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

We need to realise that this beautiful planet is not asking us to save her but to save our next generation. And trust me, the only solution is not to look for a different living habitat (for instance, Mars), but to start taking care of the planet which hosted us for thousand of centuries.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: US Geological Survey/Flickr.
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