As climate warms, a decline in snowmelt runoff

Based on hydrological model simulations and a new snowmelt tracking algorithm, we show that 53% of the total runoff in the western United States originates as snowmelt, despite only 37% of the precipitation falling as snow. In mountainous areas, snowmelt is responsible for 70% of the total runoff. By 2100, the contribution of snowmelt to runoff will decrease by one-third for the western U.S. in the IPCC RCP8.5 scenario. Snowmelt-derived runoff currently makes up two-thirds of the inflow to the region’s major reservoirs. We argue that substantial impacts on water supply are likely in a warmer climate.

Li, D., M. L. Wrzesien, M. Durand, J. Adam, and D. P. Lettenmaier (2017), How much runoff originates as snow in the western United States, and how will that change in the future?, Geophys. Res. Lett., 44, doi:10.1002/2017GL073551.

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  1. “Climate change is shrinking the West’s water supply : Three new studies show dry times ahead.” http://www.hcn.org/issues/49.10/climate-change-is-shrinking-the-wests-water-supply All three studies point to the influence of a warming climate. “Climate change is real, it’s here now, it’s serious and it’s impacting our water supplies in a way that will affect all of us,” says Bradley Udall, a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University.
    ? “The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future,” Water Resources Research, February/March 2017. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016WR019638/full
    ? “Large near-term projected snowpack loss over the western United States,” Nature Communications, April 2017. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14996
    ? “Depletion and response of deep groundwater to climate-induced pumping variability,” Nature Geoscience, January 2017. http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v10/n2/full/ngeo2883.html

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