Photo via y2k_sflam via Flickr Creative Commons
The word "catastrophic" seems like it should be overkill, but when it comes to drought caused by an increase in global temperatures, that's just what the residents of La Paz, Bolivia's capital city, will experience as their city turns to desert. Researchers focused on the history of famous Lake Titicaca to surmise that if the globe heats up, the lake will shrink down to levels that not only can't support agriculture, but will also effect the weather patterns and shrink rainfall levels. The grasslands will turn to desert sand. And quickly. Science Daily reports that "If temperatures rise more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above those of modern times, parts of Peru and Bolivia will become a desert-like setting." The research comes from scientists at the Florida Institute of Technology, led by climatologist Mark Bush. The team looked at fossilized pollen found in sediments of the lake to determine historical patterns of the ecosystem around the lake.
In the past, when the lake shrank the areas around it changed from woodland and grassland to desert. This is what modern-day Bolivia is facing now. As the area warms, the lake shrinks with evaporation, and the scientists note that a tipping point where retreating forests turn into desert hits at a warming level of between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. That could happen as quickly as 2040 or 2050.
Lake Titicaca from space. Its outline may look very different in the future. Credit: NASA
The drought would impact water supplies for city residents as well as local agriculture. "The implications would be profound for some two million people," says Paul Filmer, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.
The impact of warming on water supplies and the habitat of an area is well known -- desertification is occurring in places like China and Africa where water supplies are already pushed to breaking points. Adding an extra 1 or 2 degrees of warmth to the equation can mean disaster.
Last year we heard a report that warming causes 37% of droughts. In Bolivia, the residents of La Paz may be experiencing that first hand.
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