By Scott Huntington
The water cycle, the process by which water circulates through the planet’s atmosphere and waterways, helps make life here on Earth possible.
Climate change, however, caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions, is disrupting that process. It’s creating a vicious cycle in which higher temperatures, changes in rainfall and water contamination cause environmental consequences that make global warming worse and damage the health of the planet further.
Changes in rainfall
Increased temperatures caused by climate change raise the rate of evaporation from both land and oceans, as well as enable the atmosphere to hold more water by about 4 percent for every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase.
This added evaporation will dry out some areas and fall as excess precipitation in others. Generally, dry areas are expected to get drier while wet areas become wetter. This will lead to increasing instances of drought in some areas and more flooding in others.
Increased need for water
As temperatures rise and evaporation amplifies, so will the need for water for individuals, agriculture and industry. Rising population will add to this increased demand.
As certain areas experience more droughts, we’ll have to more frequently transport water where it is needed. Rising water levels in other areas may necessitate infrastructure changes. Both of these essential measures may result in more emissions and more used energy.
A rise in sea levels
Melting ice caps, ice sheets and glaciers, as well as expanding warming waters, will lead to rising sea levels. This could harm coastal communities and various ecosystems, as well as contaminate fresh water supplies.
Rising sea levels could push saltwater into freshwater aquifers, making the water unusable for drinking or irrigation unless it’s treated using an energy-intensive process.
Increased water pollution
High levels of rainfall could overwhelm and damage important infrastructure like sewer systems and water treatment plants and lead to polluted water, causing it to become brown or cloudy. Heavy precipitation could also lead to increased runoff of fertilizers, sediment, trash and other pollutants into water sources.
Stress on ecosystems
Increased levels of nutrients in water from things like fertilizer runoff can cause algae to grow at excessive rates. When this algae dies, bacteria can lower the level of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones where nothing can live.
Garbage that makes its way into ocean waters can also kill marine life that mistake it for food or get caught in it.
Chemical pollution can also harm or kill marine life. It can accumulate in sea creatures in increasing amounts as it moves up the food chain, eventually affecting humans.
Some scientists say ocean degradation could even cause a mass extinction event.
Worsened climate change
As water becomes a scarcer resource, we may need to treat this increasingly polluted water to make it useable. This process requires a lot of energy and could lead to more emissions.
The situation is clearly serious, but there are some things we can do.
Decreasing emissions by using less energy or switching to renewable energy helps to slow global warming. Turning lights off when not in use, driving less and insulating your home to make it more energy-efficient can all help reduce energy use.
Buying environmentally responsible products and eating a low-impact diet are other lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact.
Expressing your support for environmental protection can also help. You can make your voice heard by writing government officials, voting, posting about it online or simply talking with family and friends.
The effect that climate change has on our water is just one example of the impact it can have. It is becoming increasingly evident that we are at a critical point in time regarding our changing climate and the future of our planet.
Image credit: Pexels
Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.