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Water and Climate Change

What is climate change?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as CO2, N2O, CH4, SF6, PFCs and HFCs, can be produced naturally or by human activities (anthropogenic sources). Once released, GHGs trap heat in the atmosphere, and as concentrations of GHGs increase, the earth’s temperature could climb higher than previous levels, and wind, precipitation, and migration patterns could be modified.

Climate change can be identified by shifts in climate properties or a location’s characteristics over an extended period of time. Slight temperature changes in one location can cause more extreme conditions all over the world that impact humans, plants, and animals.  Several examples include:

  • Increased frequency of catastrophic natural disasters;
  • Early occurrence of spring events (e.g. germination, flowering, migrations, reproduction);
  • Plants and animals requiring colder climates for survival are traveling north – migration and habitat shifts;
  • At least 270 plant and animal species have responded to climate change by altering migration and/or reproduction patterns

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of over 700 scientists from 194 countries that examines all “peer-reviewed” literature relating to climate change and draws policy-relevant conclusions, has concluded the following:

  • The observed increase in average temperatures since the 1950s is likely attributable to an increase in GHG concentrations;
  • GHG emissions from human activities increased 70% from 1970-2004; and
  • Human activities have largely contributed to global climate change (with 90% certainty)

How will climate change affect water resources?

Climate change may affect water resources in numerous ways, such as:

  • Warming of the air and water;
  • Alteration in timing, location, and amount of rain and snow;
  • Increased storm intensity and frequency of weather-related disasters;
  • Rise in seas levels;
  • Decrease in predictability of water availability and supply; variation in water storage and consumption patterns;
  • Increase in water pollution problems (e.g. hypoxia, harmful algal blooms);
  • Alteration in aquatic biology;

The growing scarcity of water will likely lead to tighter water efficiency and quality regulations.  The management of water resource impacts many aspects of society, including health, food production and security, water supply and sanitation, various industries, and energy production.