Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

We’re here, we’re warming, can we get used to it?

21.02.2005


El Niño’s effects on a Pacific Northwest river valley offer forecasters a window to dry years ahead


PARCHED--Water officials keep tabs on snowpack and reservoir levels to help them forecast drought, this for the Yakima River Valley, mid-February 2005. If this snowpack picture holds up, reservoirs will be depleted and farmers in many water districts can expect irrigation sources to run dry this summer. As climate in the region changes, this forecast will become more and more common, with severe consequences for those who do not plan. (Sources: reservoir levels, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Pacific Northwest Region; snowpack water data, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Compilation: Michael J. Scott, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.)



Global warming conversations have shifted from whether climate is changing to how we will deal with the inevitable consequences. And the price you pay will depend on where you live and how well you prepare, suggests one of the most detailed studies to date on global warming and its likely effect on human activity.

"Like politics, global climate change is local," said Michael J. Scott, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. "Our behavior where we live must change with the climate if we are to stave off economic and natural catastrophemeet the challenge Mother Nature may hand us in the next few years."


Scott presented findings Sunday from his and colleagues’ decade-long case study--on water availability past, present and future in the Yakima River Valley of south-central Washington--at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, during a session he organized on adapting to climate change.

The Yakima River Valley is a vast fruit basket, with 370,000 irrigated acres of orchards, vineyards and other crops covering 6,150 square miles from the river’s headwaters in the Cascade Range east of Seattle to the Yakima’s terminus at the Columbia River in Richland. In a typical year, five reservoirs and stream runoff provide agriculture with 2.7 million acre-feet of water. In aA typical year at mid-century, that amount will be fall an average of 20 to 40 percent.

"The expected losses to agriculture alone in the Yakima Valley over the next several decades will be between $92 million at 2 degrees centigrade warming and $163 million a year at 4 degrees"--or up to nearly a quarter of total current crop value, Scott said.

Those losses will result from a projected are based on shortage of water for irrigation. That water comes from reservoirs and runoff that are, in turn, tied directly to the amount of snow that accumulates in the Cascades over the winter, the snowpack.

Scott, a natural resources economist, and colleagues at PNNL and Washington State University extrapolated the effects of warming to the region by applying data from bad drought seasons going back 80 years to computer projections of diminishing snowpack this century. Models predict up to 70 percent reduction in snowpack for the entire West Coast, including the Cascades.

The model they ran s runs assumed no change in precipitation. The key is availability of water when it is needed, not just for agriculture but also for salmon runs and municipal water supplies. In wet years, flood control by letting water out of reservoirs comes into play. The entire system is predicated on water being stored as snow in the mountains becoming available in spring with the thaw.

Scott has pinned many of those drought years to El Niño, a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific that affects global weather and climate. We have learned from El Niño that small things we can control can help with big things that we cannot, he said.

For example, seasonal climate forecasts enable several months’ warning that could prevent millions in losses, Scott said. In a typical El Niño year like this one, water managers who monitor reservoir and snowpack levels can assay the likelihood of a coming shortage before January. Unless it snows and rains excessively between now and April (when the official water-availability forecast is made public by the federal Bureau of Reclamation) we can expect water shortages in the Yakima Valley.

This information can be put to good use if it comes early enough. If, say, a farmer in an irrigation district that is low in the pecking order--there is a crazy quilt of water districts, and water claims are based on district seniority--knows the spigot will run dry during the coming growing season, he or she can choose to sit out the year. Or that farmer’s district can strike a deal with more senior districts to buy their water at a premium and farmers in the senior districts can let low-value crops like alfalfa go fallow, Scott said.

El Niño occurs roughly every three to seven years. If there were no El Niño, a severe drought would occur every roughly one year in 50 years. Add El Niño to the mix, and the average frequency for severe drought rises to 1 in 7. The El Niño years themselves average a severe drought year in every three. By conservative estimates, global warming will approximate El Niño severe drought conditions "one every two years," Scott said.

With this information, policymakers and farmers can plan ways to adjust practices not just for the next season but for the next several decades. Mitigations can be costly and contentious, such as a proposal to divert water from the Columbia River over the Saddle Mountains into the Yakima Valley (estimated cost: $3.5 billion, but even this is moving target). More modest and widespread measures could include improved water conservation, water trading and moving up planting and harvesting dates or switching from apples and other water-loving fruits to grapes, which do better than apples on less water.

"You’re not going to grow apples if you’re getting clobbered one season in two," Scott noted. "But you have to plan. It can take years to establish a new crop like grapes."

Bill Cannon | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.pnl.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Ultrathin device harvests electricity from human motion

24.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists announce the quest for high-index materials

24.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

ADIR Project: Lasers Recover Valuable Materials

24.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>