Farmers in parts of the western United States who rely on snowmelt to help irrigate their crops will be among the hardest hit in the world by climate change, a new study reveals.
In an article published today in Nature Climate Change, an interdisciplinary team of researchers analyzed monthly irrigation water demand together with snowmelt runoff across global basins from 1985 to 2015. The goal was to determine where irrigated agriculture has depended on snowmelt runoff in the past and how that might change with a warming climate.
They then projected changes in snowmelt and rainfall runoff if the Earth warms by 2 or 4 degrees Celsius (about 3 ½ or 7 degrees Fahrenheit), which will potentially put snow-dependent basins at risk.
The findings pinpointed basins globally most at risk of not having enough water available at the right times for irrigation because of changes in snowmelt patterns. Two of those high-risk areas are the San Joaquin and Colorado river basins in the western United States.
“In many areas of the world, agriculture depends on snowmelt runoff happening at certain times and at certain magnitudes,” said Yue Qin, assistant professor of geography and a core faculty of the Sustainability Institute at The Ohio State University.
“But climate change is going to cause less snow and early melting in some basins, which could have profound effects on food production.”
Read more at Ohio State University