Sierra Nevada Snowpack May Decline 80% by Mid-Century If Emissions Keep Rising

sierra nevada California photoa.dombrowski/CC BY-SA 2.0

Here's some pretty grim news for California: If carbon emissions keep rising at current rates (and remember that's what certainly seems in the cards, due in no small part to lack of political will in high-emitting nations), the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada range to lose 80% of its snowpack over the next 40 years.

That's the word of USGS scientists Tom Suchanek, lecturing at the Menlo Park Science Center. More on his talk at

Patch contextualizes that news (which isn't entirely new research frankly) as "The End of Sierra Skiing?". And it's true; a decrease in snowpack in California along those lines would be utterly devastating to the winter sports industry in the state—something that doesn't sit well with this snowboarder. Resort communities themselves may well be able to reposition themselves, at some likely smaller scale, as beautiful outdoor destinations still worth visiting without snow. However, the viability of winter tourism as now known is certainly at risk.

But frankly the impact on the winter sports industry is the least of the problems for California should snowpack see that level of decline. The far bigger effect will be on water availability for farming, which in many places is largely dependent on spring runoff from all that melting snow. The amount of winter snow in the mountains has the ability to make or break agriculture.

To give you a sense of proportion, the winter of 2011-12 was the second driest on record for California, with precipitation 7.82" below average.

Of course, before snowpack ultimately declines that much, we're likely to see plenty of snowy winters—remember, that as the planet warms, there's often more available water in the atmosphere, in winter falling as snow until temperatures rise enough to turn it into rain.

Let's hope that by 2050 the 'Nevada' part of those mountains doesn't just refer to a past state.

Tags: California | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects | Water Crisis


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