Our biggest water reservoirs are dwindling.Abstract art at Burning Man? Nope, these are empty boat slips protruding from an abandoned dock at Nevada's Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead is North America's largest man-made reservoir, storing water for millions of people across seven states. Well, it used to anyway.
Lake Mead, NevadaThanks to 14 years of drought fueled by climate change, and increased demand from cities, agriculture, and the oil and gas industry, Lake Mead is drying up.
Lake Powell, UtahProlonged drought has also caused a dramatic drop in Lake Powell's water level. Lake Powell is another Southwestern reservoir that supplies water to millions of homes in Arizona and Utah. These NASA images show the northern part of the lake, which is actually a deep, narrow, meandering reservoir that extends from Arizona upstream into southern Utah. The left image, from 1999, shows water levels near full capacity. The image on the right, taken in May 2014, shows the lake has dropped to 42 percent of capacity.
California is losing the battle against the drought too.At the end of June 2014, California’s 154 intrastate reservoirs stood at only 60% of their historical average, yet there are twice as many people living in the state than ever before.
Which is bad news for people who grow things. And people who eat them.California supplies almost 100 percent of America’s carrots, avocados, strawberries, almonds, grapes, etc. Lots of livestock, too. But because of the drought, California’s topsoil moisture and subsoil moisture reserves are nearly depleted and the state’s rangeland and pastures were rated 70% very poor to poor on July 27. As a result, food prices are on the rise. If you've never thought about climate change as a threat to food security, it’s time to start.
This drought isn't only affecting the Southwest.In fact, it's just a warning of what climate change could do to the entire country, and eventually, the planet. As this NASA video explains, the past decade has been the hottest ever recorded since global temperature records began 150 years ago. A big part of this temperature increase is due to greenhouse gases emitted by human activities, like burning fossil fuels in our cars and power plants.
Planet Earth has a fever, and we’re gonna need more than cowbell to cure it.Rising global temperatures are melting the world's glaciers and ice sheets at an alarming rate.
Arctic ice also stores a ton of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that’s bad for human health. Without the glaciers and polar ice caps, we’re like a bologna sandwich in a cooler with no ice on a hot summer day--headed for the trashcan.
A hotter, more toxic atmosphere isn't the only negative consequence of melting Arctic ice.As the glaciers and ice sheets turn from solid to liquid, sea levels are rising. This means things that didn't used to be underwater--like island nations and beachfront properties--are getting wet. Recently, every rainy season in the San Blas Islands brings massive flooding as a result of rising ocean levels caused by global warming. In the foreground, a traffic sign reading "Slow Down" is partially submerged.
And what if polar ice melts completely, as many scientists say it will if we can’t stop climate change?Well, the sea will swell by approximately 216 feet, many island nations will be completely swallowed up, and North America will get a new coastline.
While the oceans are swelling, they’re also warming up and becoming more acidicOcean acidification is the direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from fossil fuels. When CO2 dissolves in water, carbonic acid is formed. This acid decreases the ability of many marine organisms (like the coral above) to build and maintain their shells and skeletal structures.
Scientists say the warmer, toxic nature of the ocean could be what's causing massive fish die-offs around the world.Thousands of dead fish wash up along boat slips at the Marina Del Rey, Calif. on Monday, May 19, 2014.
Masses of fish turn up dead in a marina in Pultneyville, New York on Saturday May 17th, 2014.
Dead fish float on the surface of the Maninjau lake, Indonesia in March 2014.
Warmer waters also give rise to other nasty stuff, like algae blooms.The recent toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie forced over 500,000 people to go without water.
Scientists say that the bloom was caused by heavy rainfall that washed larger than normal amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants into the lake. As climate change progresses, severe precipitation, in places that don’t usually get lots of rain, will become more common. This puts every single lake, river, and stream in jeopardy of the same algae bloom that recently devastated the Great Lakes region.