Prioritising water management is an absolute must for governments the world over, as the pressures of climate change, population growth, extreme weather events and urbanisation start to really take their toll on available water resources.
And it seems that it is becoming increasingly important to recognise the link between snow and water security where this is concerned, with a new study from the University of Dartmouth now revealing that uncertainties in relation to determining snow depth and inconsistencies in how snow drought is classified can be used to drive improvements in predicting water availability itself.
Senior author of the report Justin Mankin, assistant professor of geography, explained that snow droughts will increase in line with global warming and climate change, and the shift to less annual snow that is now being seen will make it necessary for research to evolve in order to facilitate understanding of the implications of snow droughts.
One of the main problems where these droughts are concerned is how to measure snow with consistency and certainty on a global scale.
A variety of methods are used to determine snowpack in any given area and there is also no single definition of what actually constitutes a snow drought – so there’s no common way to identify them or describe their effects on water availability, as well as other conditions.
But the team from Dartmouth have now come up with a new approach that helps to improve the understanding of snow droughts, as well as their causes and their consequences.
Mr Mankin explained: “Our approach is based on the belief that uncertainty is not necessarily a problem. Instead, uncertainty is something we have the tools to manage and better characterisations of what we don’t know for sure can actually help us make more robust claims about how the world works.”
Snow is hugely important for the provision of ecological and economic services, such as storing water so it can be used during the warmer months of the year.
Diminished snowpack can result in lower reservoir levels and soil moisture, affecting businesses, households, economies and environments. When combined with increasing heat because of climate change, snow droughts can also result in emergency conditions like wildfire.
More than a sixth of the world’s population (1.2 billion people or thereabouts) relies on seasonal snow to meet their water needs and, over the years, scientists have detected changes in the quantity of snow itself and snowmelt timing, which ties in with other changes being driven by rising global temperatures.
NASA satellites have been monitoring the extent of seasonal snow-covered areas for years, showing that since 1967 spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere has declined by around one million square miles. This loss of snow cover means that the earth then absorbs more sunlight, which accelerates the warming of the planet.