every drop counts

Chinese, Indian, American and British scientists have released a conference declaration urging a region-by-region response to increased water scarcity and heightened hazards.

Solutions to immense problems have small beginnings and we began here.

Charles Kennel

Melting glaciers, weakening monsoon rains, less mountain snowpack and other effects of a warmer climate will lead to significant disruptions in the supply of water to highly populated regions of the world, according to an international group of scientists convened by University of California San Diego and the University of Cambridge.

This will especially be the case near the Himalayas in Asia and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of the western United States.

More than two dozen international water experts participated in the "Ice, Snow, and Water: Impacts of Climate Change on California and Himalayan Asia" workshop held at UC San Diego.

They noted heavy rains in Indian deserts, a recent drought in what is typically one of the wettest place on earth along the foot of the Himalayas, and other extreme weather events in recent decades.

Major rivers in both regions, like China's Yellow River and the Colorado River in the southwestern United States, routinely fail to reach the ocean now.

These extremes are signs of the climate- and societally-induced stresses that will be exacerbated in the future under continuing climate changes, threatening massive and progressive disruptions in the availability of drinking water to more than a billion people in the two regions.

The workshop seeks to use the intellectual resources amassed at these and other universities - ranging from climate change research at Scripps to the computing power of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), and bringing social sciences together with physical and biological sciences - to promote solutions to the world's most pressing sustainability issues.

"Solutions to immense problems have small beginnings and we began here," said Sustainability Solutions Institute Senior Strategist Charles Kennel. "I continue to be impressed by what a small group of dedicated people can achieve."

Workshop leaders plan to present the declaration at the 2009 Forum on Science and Technology in Society in Kyoto, Japan, taking place in October. Additionally, the University of Cambridge will continue the discussion of the global water crisis when it hosts in September a companion workshop focused on African water problems.

Research performed at Scripps and at other research centers around the world have indicated that global warming and particulate air pollution, especially in the form of black carbon (essentially soot), are already disrupting natural supplies of water by raising air temperatures and by increasing the light absorption of snow and ice as pollutants darken the frozen surfaces.

Workshop experts represented the United Nations World Climate Research Program, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian Space Research Organization, the British Antarctic Survey, the California Department of Water Resources as well as several American universities.

The workshop was coordinated by UC San Diego's Sustainability Solutions Institute (SSI) and Cambridge Centre for Energy Studies (CCES) based at Judge Business School.

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