Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Western prairies face impending water crisis

05.04.2006


The Canadian prairies are facing an unprecedented water crisis due to a combination of climate warming, increase in human activity and historic drought, says new research by the University of Alberta’s Dr. David Schindler, one of the world’s leading environmental scientists.



"The western prairies are worse than other areas of Canada," said Schindler, co-author of a paper published in the journal "Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences," early online edition. "One of the referees on this paper said, ’wow, this is like looking out the window of a locomotive 10 seconds before the train crashes.’ It is a very dire situation".

Although most global studies rank Canada among the top five countries in terms of per-capita water supply, those rankings can be deceptive, argue Schindler and Dr. Bill Donahue, who co-authored the paper. Canada’s western prairie provinces (WPP), for example, have an area of 2 million kms that lie in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains and as a result, are the driest large area of southern Canada.


Little research has been done on the cumulative effects of climate warming, drought and human activity on water shortages. Schindler and Donahue found that the biggest threat was a combined one, made up of several ingredients. First, there is now considerable evidence that the 20th century, when settlers arrived, was the wettest century for at least a couple of millenia. What we think of as normal was not normal in the long-term. "Most earlier centuries had one or more prolonged droughts, some of 10-40 years," said Schindler. "So we should probably not expect a second wet century in a row."

Climate warming is a second factor that will exacerbate any droughts. This new research shows that there is already a decline in glaciers that supply water to our rivers, snowpacks are dwindling and there is higher precipitation evaporation. The western prairies have already warmed by two to four degrees and this is expected to double by mid-century, the researchers argue in the paper.

Our rapidly growing population also means we are using more water for industry and agriculture, both of which are increasing as well. Some rivers--the Bow and Oldman in southern Alberta--are already oversubscribed, says Schindler.

Making it worse, we are destroying the features of our watersheds that protect these rivers, he said. "We drain or fill wetlands and destroy our riparian forests--all of the features that could help our landscape to retain the water it does get."

One reason this dismal situation has been underestimated is that previous analyses have considered total annual flow, which has declined only slightly for most rivers. Schindler and Donahue looked at summer--May to August--flows. This is the period when human demand is at the highest for irrigation, agriculture and municipalities and when coldwater fisheries are vulnerable to high temperature and low oxygen.

Although reducing greenhouse emissions would have the greatest effects several decades from now, it would have little short-term impact, says Schindler. "We cannot replace the glaciers so our only alternative is to get very serious about water conservation and protection of the watersheds that supply our water," he said. For example, it is imperative to use less water for agriculture through drought resistant crops or incentives for water conservation and to consider reusing water and low-flow devices as ways to conserve our supply. We should also consider if and where we want population and industry to increase, said Schindler.

"As we show, the less water available to dilute pollutants, the more water quality problems we will see," said Schindler, adding parts of the southwest United States are currently experience water crises for the same reasons. "I don’t think we want to face the same problems Los Angeles or Phoenix has, but they will come unless we start protecting our water."

Phoebe Dey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ualberta.ca

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

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: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>