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Snowpack in the northern Rocky Mountains drying up
June 10, 2011 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Snowpack in the northern Rocky Mountains has declined over the past 30 years more than at any other time in a least 1,000 years (30-year decline is old news, 1000 year perspective is new). Snowmelt from the Rockies provide water for at least 70 million people. Snow is also melting weeks earlier in the American West. Some consequences of earlier snowmelt (of less snow) are drier forests, more wildfires and less water for people in a West heating up and drying out.
posted by stbalbach (26 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Snowpack levels this year were very high, but won't counter balance the snowpack decline observed over the past 30 years.
posted by stbalbach at 10:47 AM on June 10, 2011


Well, then maybe this is the start of a 30 year trend in the opposite direction. If not, maybe it's time to get the wagon trains out and do a reverse Oregon Trail. Maybe we can hire some Indians to maraud and get massacred just for authenticity.
posted by spicynuts at 10:57 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some consequences of earlier snowmelt (of less snow) are drier forests, more wildfires and less water for people in a West heating up and drying out.

And, surprisingly, increased flooding. When the snowpack melts early, it combines with the wetter spring in the Great Plains. It may not be as much water, but it all shows up in a shorter timeframe --- total power is lower, but peak power is higher.

This year, the very high snowpack + early melt + wet spring has left the Missouri Basin very full -- so much so that the reservoir on the upper Missouri are basically dead full. Because of this, the USACE is having to release far more water from the dams than they have ever done, which is going to leave the lower Missouri in flood most of the summer. If the summer turns out to be wet (and so far, it's starting that way) then record flooding along the Missouri is probable.

And, of course, the Missouri flows into the Mississippi, which is having it's own flooding issues. However, the volume of water, even at flood, in the Missouri is a fraction of the water that flows into the Mississippi from the Ohio -- in 1993, with both the Upper Mississippi and Missouri in record flood, everything downstream of Cairo, IL was fine. The Ohio was at normal-to-low levels, and the lower Mississippi was able to easily handle it.
posted by eriko at 10:57 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


We adopted a "wait and see" attitude about global warming, we waited, and we saw. I was talking to an old friend of mine a while back who does post-doc-level research that relates to global warming (specifically species migration - she tracks where and when butterflies migrate from & to, and has seen change in times and location related to temp data) and I asked her what we could do. Basically, her not-verbatim take on it was "If we stop burning ALL fossil fuels right now, things will probably stop warming up and begin returning to normal in 100 years or so."
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:00 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


:(
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:00 AM on June 10, 2011


Should I run to or away from the hills?
posted by The Whelk at 11:03 AM on June 10, 2011


Run in any direction, The Whelk. But run for the hills. They need you run because they can't.
posted by GuyZero at 11:05 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


"If we stop burning ALL fossil fuels right now, things will probably stop warming up and begin returning to normal in 100 years or so."

But we can't and we won't stop using fossil energy. So the Earth will keep warming until it looks like the Eocene epoch, which "coincided with a major mammalian turnover on land" and alligators swam in swamps near the North Pole, and palm trees grew in southern Alaska. Sounds nice, but the infastructure is going to be a bitch.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:11 AM on June 10, 2011


Run for your lives!
posted by homunculus at 11:14 AM on June 10, 2011


Should I run to or away from the hills?

Don't panic -- just invest in beach-front property in Alberta.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:15 AM on June 10, 2011


Yeah, except for the beaches around Slave Lake.
posted by GuyZero at 11:19 AM on June 10, 2011


Skiing was great this year! and still is, in June!
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Iirc the geological evidence is that there have been many long arid periods in the rocky mountains punctuated by wetter eras. Settlement of the west by Europeans took place during a wetter period. Climate is not stable. On the other hand we seem hellbent on changing it in an extreme manner in a short period of time by flooding the atmosphere with co2
posted by humanfont at 11:30 AM on June 10, 2011


“We’re all gonna die!”

This cracked him up. He bent from the waist laughing and seemed to be using the mike as a geiger counter, waving it over the floorboards.

[...]

And the audience sat there thinking, How real can the crisis be if we’re sitting in a club on Santa Monica Boulevard going ha ha ha.

“We’re all gonna die!”

Lenny loves the postexistential bent of this line. In his giddy shriek the audience can hear the obliteration of the idea of uniqueness and free choice. They can hear the replacement of human isolation by massive and unvaried ruin…

[...]

Lenny bent his knees and spread both arms wide, his mouth stretched in a rictus of gaped and grinning terror.

“We’re all gonna die!”
Don DeLillo, Underworld
posted by codacorolla at 11:47 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's going to be a time of greater extremes. Wetter wet, drier dry, windier wind, hotter hot.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:09 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whatever, we have government representatives sending pictures of their underwear to nubile young women to fuss about.
posted by emjaybee at 12:37 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


You "uncurious" sheep, with your "concensus". Rush says it ain't so.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:16 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, Rush does have the wingnut vote to support.
posted by sneebler at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2011


When water is less available to a region, the plants in that region dry out and become tinder. A fire that rips through the area adds to this- it removes anything holding the topsoil down. A normal rainfall can quickly cause mudslides that remove the topsoil.

We have been under the belief that all fires in the wild are bad. It isn't so. Low fires clear brush and allow for soil regeneration. These fires burn at low enough temperatures to not catch trees.

But, out west, we have drained our underground aquifers. Trees can't tap this source of water and dry out- becoming perfect wood for fire. Any uncleared area that catches fire starts the cycle. I wonder how long it will take Arizona to recover from the Wallow fire currently raging.

We are causing changes out here in the West.
posted by Nadie_AZ at 2:37 PM on June 10, 2011


I don't think trees were tapping the deep water aquifers of the mountain west. The mountain west isn't a particularly stable place.
posted by humanfont at 2:51 PM on June 10, 2011


developing story: Russia faces surge in forest fires, officials warn they could be worse than last year's.. last year Russian fires were off the charts bad.
posted by stbalbach at 10:00 PM on June 10, 2011


It's my understanding that the massive fires in Arizona are a result of there being too many 'scrub' trees (and ranching). Historic fires were low intensity, scouring the ground cover and scarring - but not killing - tall mature established trees. Fire suppression has enabled generations of saplings to become established, creating a fire vector from the ground to the canopy. Ranching has had the effect of preventing the spread of fires, increasing the time between forest fires and the amount of available fuel.

Lower aquifer levels is not something I've heard of in connection with the fires (though it can certainly have an environmental impact).
posted by unmake at 10:49 PM on June 10, 2011


I see your melting snow cap and raise you one non-melting urban snow bank.
posted by Gungho at 5:45 AM on June 11, 2011


I'm planning on going snowshoeing on the 4th of July this year because of the snow pack in the Snowy Range near where I live. It's going to be awesome.

That is all.
posted by elder18 at 6:45 PM on June 11, 2011


Weather Canada is predicting a record heat wave across the nation. Also, we've got a thinning ozone thing going on, like Australia has.

We have a LOT of beetle-killed Northern forest. British Columbia is enormous. We have a lot of forest that is stressed, and will die during drought. Oh, and we have a lot of lightening.

Hello, CO2.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:55 PM on June 11, 2011


Come to think of it, maybe that's a good thing. Will rising oceans keep the Northern peat bogs from burning? 'cause those peat bogs are gonna be a world of hurt if they burn.

Mind, they're gonna fart a shitton of methane gas as they melt. So hurt's a-comin' either way.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:58 PM on June 11, 2011


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