How Climate Change Disrupts the Water Cycle via the Hydro-logical System Express Cause and Effect
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living….You realize you are not immortal; you are not a god; you are part of the natural world and you come to accept that.” Sir David Attenborough
At one time or another, everyone has probably drawn a Water Cycle diagram, but beyond the word labels, there is a world of synergistic connections from stratosphere to deepest ocean layers.
As the huge cumulonimbus clouds rise along the horizon, there is also rising concern about rising climate temperatures, but have you thought that the primary disruption is happening with the water cycle? This complex integrated system has many parts and functions linked interdependently; if one part is un-linked, then all the other parts can be derailed.
Therefore, let’s use a concrete metaphor to show the cause and effect of climate change on the water cycle in the form of a large train with linked boxcars and call it the Hydro-logical System Express. It moves through the Earth’s Ecosystems where all moving parts are connected for Nature’s essential synergy within the Earth’s Biosphere. As you can quickly see, this road map is much more complicated than a friendly springtime shower.
Water moves around the Earth in a water cycle with immemorial, basic mechanics: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration and surface run-off. Along the way, it affects water supplies, food webs, health, sanitation, and energy production.
Imagine, this natural process is now steaming through a time of Climate Change with huge possible interference by affecting the amount, distribution and quality of available water. In turn, communities, industries and ecosystems can also be impacted, directly or indirectly.
Here is the Nature’s scientific engineering fact: hotter climate causes more water to evaporate from land and ocean water. This also means greater plant transpiration which results in water loss in soil and plants.
Imagine there are five boxcars linked to the water cycle that show cause and effect:
ONE: A warmer atmosphere can hold more water moisture; roughly four percent more water for every 1 degree rise in temperature. One result is increased precipitation and runoff, leading to flooding. Another result, depending on geography, is less precipitation and longer drought periods.
TWO: Mountain melt water and runoff provide more than 50 percent of the world’s freshwater. Therefore, as global temperatures rise, mountain glaciers and snow packs are melting at an unprecedented rate creating greater water stress in the habitats. Remember, glaciers can’t be replaced once they’re gone.
THREE: Valuable groundwater levels will be affected along with accelerated water competition and stress at the surface about its proper use without overusing this limited resource. Water quality will decline within the ecosystems as well. For example, higher water temperatures in lakes, streams and reservoirs result in lower levels of dissolved oxygen which adds more stress on the fish, insects, microorganisms and other aquatic animals that rely on oxygen.
FOUR: More precipitation will cause a greater pollution load to be washed into our waterways, such as nitrogen fertilizer from agriculture, pesticides, herbicides and even disease pathogens. It’s simply another engineering cycle that all water will return eventually to the coastal ocean waters. This can create blooms of harmful algae and bacteria such as blue-green algae or red tide which, in turn, can damage aquatic life and produce dangerous toxins for humans and other animals to touch or drink; thereby, hurting the fisheries, shellfish and tourism economies. A new reality called ocean acidification will need further study.
FIVE: As oceans become warmer along with an increased melt from ice caps and glaciers, the sea levels will rise. This will drive saltwater into freshwater aquifers affecting the drinking supply as well as irrigation. These threats to fragile coastal communities are alarming as infrastructure and economies try to cope for a roughly estimated more than 200 million people worldwide who live along coastlines less than 5 meters above sea level; a number that could reach 400 to 500 million by the end of the 21st century.
Of course, the picture of a Hydro-logical System Express throttling through our land is a caricature oversimplification. There are far greater dimensions and confluences to the survival of the planet itself based on the variable living Ecosystems which aggregate to make the Earth’s Biosphere.
Each ecosystem has its own energy cycle which contains all of the living species and all non-living elements in any particular environment, whether as a single tree, a forest or even a puddle. This energy flows from the sun through plants, microorganisms, food producers, consumers, and animals which ultimately ends with decomposition in order to recycle the process again. Climate change may force habitat relocation and upset the food chain or contribute to species extinction. It will affect human land development, agriculture, erosion, flooding, droughts, or greater wildfires.
Still larger, the all-embracing and cohesive mother of all, is the Biosphere based on water, air and minerals found on land where all life exists below ground, above ground and at least 200 meters of the ocean and seas. Energy flow is essential to maintain the structure of organisms by the splitting of phosphate bonds. As levels of greenhouse gases increase, including more water vapor, the Earth responds with higher temperatures. As the Biosphere’s temperature increases, it becomes global warming versus climate change which is more localized long-term pattern changes in weather conditions.
There are arguments as to which degree human activity is responsible for climate change affecting the causes and effects of the water cycle. But there is no argument that such a wide range of human activities depend, directly or indirectly, on water and that future climate-driven changes in water resources will affect many aspects of our lives.
So next time you look up at some lazy cloud passing by on a warmer day than usual, or a tumult of clouds building along the horizon, please visualize the all-powerful water cycle connecting all possible links to precipitation, run-offs, surface water, pollution, ocean levels, ecosystems, communities with so many links that must remain unbroken within the vastness of this blue planet’s Biosphere.
Then, see yourself as one individual who needs to do your part which is morally right and responsible to keep your water in your space to be as pure and fresh as possible to make all life possible.
Questions and comments are always welcome and appreciated to further this discussion. What are some of your questions or experiences with water or lack of?
PS: It gives me great pride to be the author of a special eco-fiction e-book for children of all ages called The Incredible Journey of a Water Sprite with Roots on his Mission to Discover Cyclical Truths …
It can be downloaded here:
Or Kindle edition here:
Excerpt: My thoughts wander about the kind of ecology that humankinds believe in, as I have witnessed. Do they get it that natural life begins with DNA in a nucleus, one celled animals and plants, then species and then an ecosystem? Do they know that every small ecosystem is part of the total large biosphere on Earth that connects them all; water, air, food, resources, and shelter? Do they realize that perpetual growth, industry or destruction of any habitat is not sustainable on a limited planet?