Welcome to Peak Water: Scientists Say Time Is up to Prepare for Melting Glaciers

SAN FRANCISCO - New data underscores the bleak prospects facing glaciers across the world as emissions continue to rise. In many instances, particularly the tropics, researchers expect the ice serving as key mountain reservoirs will disappear or severely degrade, leaving downstream communities to cope with scarce and unreliable supplies.

Exhibit A is the Andes, where the glacial runoff provides water for hundreds of thousands throughout Peru and Ecuador. Where scientists once thought the region had 10 years to 40 years to adapt to reduced runoff, that time is now up, said Michel Baraër of McGill University in Montreal.

"We have passed peak water," he said on Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. "As a consequence, (during) the dry season, we will get lower discharge and increased variability in flow."

Meanwhile, accelerated melting rates suggest North American glaciers will not survive the century, said Garry Clarke, emeritus professor at the University of British Columbia.

And in the Himalaya, the increasing emergence of mid-glacier lakes has become a rising concern for researchers who say the lakes fill, drain and refill at surprising rates.

The drop in the Rio Santo, in northern Peru, could leave river flows during the dry season 30 percent below current levels.

Considering that 80 percent of the water in the Rio Santo is diverted near its mouth for agriculture, that spells trouble. "Instead of having 10, 20, 40 years to find water to use, or some sort of adaptation, in fact this time does not exist," Baraër said.

Similar upheaval could come to the Canadian Rockies, Clarke said.

Human emission are exceeding even the worst-case scenario painted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But even if emissions dropped to meet the IPCC's "middle-of-the-road" projections by 2100, glaciers in the Rockies will be toast by 2100, Clarke said. That will lead to a host of ecological and social changes, from stream flows to tourism.

"We are going to be witness, over the next century, to the disappearance of glaciers in western North America," he said. 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.