climate change

Sierra Nevada Snowpack, a Crucial Water Resource, Could Disappear in 25 Years

A recent study found that the snowpack that provides water for California could disappear if global warming continues to change Earth's environment

Officials conduct a snow survey in the Sierra Nevada.
California Department of Water Resources

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, a major source of water for California, could largely disappear in 25 years if global warming continues unchecked, according to a recent study.

The worrisome findings, published Oct. 26 in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, have serious implications for California's water supply and add to a growing list of water woes in the western United States, which remains in the grips of a decadeslong megadrought.

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used climate models of different warming scenarios to project when the Sierra Nevada snowpack could see dramatic changes. Previous studies have shown that increasing temperatures from human-caused climate change are shrinking snowpacks around the world and altering precipitation patterns.

The researchers found that the snowpack could experience "episodic low-to-no-snow" winters — when more than half of the mountain basin's accumulated snow vanishes for five consecutive years — by the late 2040s if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. The snowpack is then projected to experience "persistent low-to-no-snow" years (when those conditions linger for 10 consecutive winters) in 35 to 60 years, beginning in the late 2050s.

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