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Study: Colorado Set To Lose Half Of Its Snow In 60 Years

(CBS4) - It's no surprise to anyone living in the Centennial State. The climate is slowly evolving from one of picturesque snowy mountain tops to one of bare, dusty one. Now, scientists are predicting Colorado could lose somewhere around 50%-60% of its snow by the year 2080.

"We really saw this shift in minimum streamflow earlier, peak streamflow occurring, indicating lower snowpack in the upper watershed," explained Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist for the Earth and Environmental Sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "This increasing aridity signal in lower sort of moisture is an increasing evapotranspiration."

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As a co-author of a scientific article detailing the projected future of the Colorado River Basin, Bennett said even accounting for different scenarios like more precipitation than we're seeing now still ended up with a lower base snow total for Colorado.

"We had that earlier runoff occurring and then a hotter summer means more water just being evaporated from the land surface, from the reservoirs, from these traditional reservoirs that we used to have that would hold our snowpack, hold our water over the year so we could use it for agriculture and other purposes," Bennett said.

The cause, she said, was clearly climate change. She said this research is intended to give our policy makers a clearer picture into the not-so-distant future, especially for economies based around snow like the high country.

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"Our snowpacks are likely to be reduced in the future, especially in these high elevation areas where typically we had a lot of snow in the past," Bennett said. "So we do need to think about how that will change into the future and how we want to shift our planning for water resources."

The team used modeling and projections compiled with machine learning to help predict the timeline in this instance. While there's potential for some unknowns, Bennett expressed her confidence in their finds corroborated by other scientific reports coming to similar conclusions about the future of our waterscape.

"I'm not saying that there will be no snow in the future, but overall we'll see this strong reduction projected," Bennett explained.


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