How Does Climate Change Impact Water Cycles?

Assuming you believe in the relatively recent phenomenon that is global warming, you are likely aware of natural events such as steadily rising global temperatures. You may also be aware of the melting of the polar ice caps as a direct result of this, which can dramatically increase the level of the oceans. And while you may be aware of all that as well faintly aware of other correlating occurrences, you may still not realize just how close to home it may hit you by drastically altering the water cycle in various parts of the world.

While many of us may be worrying about the ocean’s rising levels that would encroach on the mainland of various coastal nations, it is hardly the only part of the water cycle that warrants attention. It is true, the excess heat melts the polar ice caps into water. However, the increased temperature also makes the process of evaporation that much more potent. More water evaporates into the air due to the increased heat, and that increased heat effectively expands the capacity of water vapor the atmosphere can maintain at a given point. Since the atmosphere can hold a greater volume of water vapor, the end result in the next stage of the cycle is more powerful rain storms. Powerful rain storms lead to a greater risk of flooding and therefore life-altering events such as property damage, not to mention damage they can cause to natural environments.

On the other hand, the increased temperatures and the increased evaporation rates also lead to a dramatic increase in the risk of droughts and drying and hardening of entire terrains that lose too much moisture as a result. By the time these storms return the water to the surface, the terrain is so hard that the water runs off into streams and rivers, lost to the ecosystem from which it originated. This creates a compounded risk for drought in a particular area, and thus local flora and fauna suddenly face a greater difficulty in surviving, shifting the balance of the surrounding ecosystems in turn.

Apart from affecting wildlife, studies have shown that the dramatic shift in water cycle patterns could also affect the availability of water as a natural resource to the human population as well. Levels of available groundwater could not only impact drinking water available to human populations, but also water available for industrial needs. The change in thunderstorms and their relative strength could affect isolated ecosystems such as lakes and the water supply available there by altering nutrient and sediment content. A report from the Third National Climate Assessment indicates that these changes would not only affect the water as a natural resource, but it would also have a commercial impact on the likes of fisheries and other businesses dependent upon the sustainability of such ecosystems, particularly noted are coastal wetlands and aquifers.