Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

As world warms, water levels dropping in major rivers

23.04.2009
Colorado, Yellow, Ganges, Niger among those rivers affected

Rivers in some of the world's most populous regions are losing water, according to a comprehensive study of global stream flows.

The research, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., suggests that the reduced flows in many cases are associated with climate change, and could potentially threaten future supplies of food and water.

The results will be published May 15 in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.

"The distribution of the world's fresh water, already an important topic," says Cliff Jacobs of NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences, "will occupy front and center stage for years to come in developing adaptation strategies to a changing climate."

The scientists, who examined stream flows from 1948 to 2004, found significant changes in about one-third of the world's largest rivers. Of those, rivers with decreased flow outnumbered those with increased flow by a ratio of about 2.5 to 1.

Several of the rivers channeling less water serve large populations, including the Yellow River in northern China, the Ganges in India, the Niger in West Africa and the Colorado in the southwestern United States.

In contrast, the scientists reported greater stream flows over sparsely populated areas near the Arctic Ocean, where snow and ice are rapidly melting.

"Reduced runoff is increasing the pressure on freshwater resources in much of the world, especially with more demand for water as population increases," says NCAR scientist Aiguo Dai, the lead author of the journal paper. "Freshwater being a vital resource, the downward trends are a great concern."

Many factors may affect river discharge, including dams and the diversion of water for agriculture and industry.

The researchers found, however, that the reduced flows in many cases appear to be related to global climate change, which is altering precipitation patterns and increasing the rate of evaporation.

The results are consistent with previous research by Dai and others showing widespread drying and increased drought over many land areas.

The study raises wider ecological and climate concerns.

Discharge from the world's great rivers results in deposits of dissolved nutrients and minerals into the oceans. The freshwater flow also affects global ocean circulation patterns, which are driven by changes in salinity and temperature, and which play a vital role in regulating the world's climate.

Although the recent changes in freshwater discharge are relatively small and may only have impacts around major river mouths, Dai said the freshwater balance in the global oceans and over land needs to be monitored for long-term changes.

Scientists have been uncertain about the impacts of global warming on the world's major rivers. Studies with computer models show that many of the rivers outside the Arctic could lose water because of decreased precipitation in the mid- and lower latitudes, and an increase in evaporation caused by higher temperatures.

Earlier, less comprehensive analyses of major rivers had indicated, however, that global stream flow was increasing.

Dai and his co-authors analyzed the flows of 925 of the planet's largest rivers, combining actual measurements with computer-based stream flow models to fill in data gaps.

The rivers in the study drain water from every major landmass except Antarctica and Greenland and account for 73 percent of the world's total stream flow.

Overall, the study found that, from 1948 to 2004, annual freshwater discharge into the Pacific Ocean fell by about 6 percent, or 526 cubic kilometers--approximately the same volume of water that flows out of the Mississippi River each year.

The annual flow into the Indian Ocean dropped by about 3 percent, or 140 cubic kilometers. In contrast, annual river discharge into the Arctic Ocean rose about 10 percent, or 460 cubic kilometers.

In the United States, the Columbia River's flow declined by about 14 percent during the 1948-2004 study period, largely because of reduced precipitation and higher water usage in the West.

The Mississippi River, however, has increased by 22 percent over the same period because of greater precipitation across the Midwest since 1948.

Some rivers, such as the Brahmaputra in South Asia and the Yangtze in China, have shown stable or increasing flows. But they could lose volume in future decades with the gradual disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers feeding them, the scientists say.

"As climate change inevitably continues in coming decades, we are likely to see greater impacts on many rivers and the water resources that society has come to rely on," says NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, a co-author of the paper.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate change weakens Walker circulation
20.10.2017 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen

nachricht Shallow soils promote savannas in South America
20.10.2017 | Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>