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Study makes concerning findings about snowfall across the northern hemisphere: '[We] will need to take account of these changes'

"Water managers need different strategies to adapt to this, depending on their location."

"Water managers need different strategies to adapt to this, depending on their location."

Photo Credit: iStock

Our warming world is thawing snow earlier in the Rockies and the Alps while delaying seasonal river flows in the parts of the planet that are seeing less snow. A new study suggests this is linked to a higher risk of summer droughts in the Northern Hemisphere.

What's happening?

Winter precipitation is diminishing as normally-snowy areas thaw earlier. It has also been reduced because warm-season rain comes later in the year, meaning water flows in areas that see less snow are also delayed.

According to a new study by researchers in the United Kingdom, it means an increasing chance of summer droughts in the Northern Hemisphere. 

"The increased interannual variability of streamflow seasonality implies greater uncertainty in seasonal streamflow patterns, posing challenges for water resource planning and management," said the study's lead author, Dr. Ross Woods from the University of Bristol's Faculty of Engineering, in a story posted by Phys.org. 

"Water managers need different strategies to adapt to this, depending on their location. Future planning for water infrastructure will need to take account of these changes in seasonal river flow."

Why is a higher risk of drought in the Northern Hemisphere concerning?

More summer droughts would challenge water and food security and negatively impact hydroelectric power, one of the country's oldest and largest renewable energy sources.

Studies have shown our warming world is changing the natural pattern of droughts. As heat-trapping gases build up in the atmosphere, the changing climate is making droughts more frequent, longer, and more intense.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Integrated Drought Information System, more than 44 million people live in areas experiencing drought conditions. NOAA's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook forecasts that drought conditions will expand in large portions of the northern Rockies, central plains, desert southwest, and Midwest.

What's being done about the increasing likelihood of droughts?

The United States Geological Survey helps communities prepare for and mitigate droughts. They continue to develop tools that help assess the severity of droughts and forecast future events. They also study how past droughts compare to current ones and how our changing climate impacts the frequency and severity of droughts.

Scientists continue to make discoveries in the field of drought-tolerant agriculture production. Researchers recently uncovered a new way to "hack" plants' circadian rhythms to grow drought-resistant crops.

Finding ways to adapt to the conditions in drought-stricken areas that are becoming more common in our warming world is crucial. Developing new varieties of foods, such as potatoes and melons, that can better withstand the harsh conditions droughts bring will be vital.

We can also help lessen the severity of extreme weather events by swapping gas-powered equipment for electric options, such as induction stoves, heat pumps, and solar panels

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