First-of-its-kind study finds alarming increase in flow of water into oceans

First-of-its-kind study finds alarming increase in flow of water into oceans
UCI research led by Jay Famiglietti has found alarming rise in rain flows into ocean. Photo: Daniel A. Anderson
(PhysOrg.com) -- Freshwater is flowing into Earth's oceans in greater amounts every year, a team of researchers has found, thanks to more frequent and extreme storms linked to global warming. All told, 18 percent more water fed into the world's oceans from rivers and melting polar ice sheets in 2006 than in 1994, with an average annual rise of 1.5 percent.

"That might not sound like much – 1.5 percent a year – but after a few decades, it's huge," said Jay Famiglietti, UC Irvine system science professor and principal investigator on the study, which will be published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He noted that while freshwater is essential to humans and ecosystems, the rain is falling in all the wrong places, for all the wrong reasons.

"In general, more water is good," Famiglietti said. "But here's the problem: Not everybody is getting more rainfall, and those who are may not need it. What we're seeing is exactly what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted – that precipitation is increasing in the tropics and the Arctic Circle with heavier, more punishing storms. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people live in semiarid regions, and those are drying up."

In essence, he said, the evaporation and precipitation cycle taught in grade school is accelerating dangerously because of greenhouse gas-fueled higher temperatures, triggering monsoons and hurricanes. Hotter weather above the oceans causes freshwater to evaporate faster, which leads to thicker clouds unleashing more powerful storms over land. The rainfall then travels via to the sea in ever-larger amounts, and the cycle begins again.

The pioneering study, which is ongoing, employs NASA and other world-scale satellite observations rather than computer models to track total water volume each month flowing from the continents into the oceans.

"Many scientists and models have suggested that if the water cycle is intensifying because of climate change, then we should be seeing increasing river flow. Unfortunately, there is no global discharge measurement network, so we have not been able to tell," wrote Famiglietti and lead author Tajdarul Syed of the Indian School of Mines, formerly of UCI.

"This paper uses satellite records of sea level rise, precipitation and evaporation to put together a unique 13-year record – the longest and first of its kind. The trends were all the same: increased evaporation from the that led to increased precipitation on land and more flow back into the ocean."

The researchers cautioned that although they had analyzed more than a decade of data, it was still a relatively short time frame. Natural ups and downs that appear in climate data make detecting long-term trends challenging. Further study is needed, they said, and is under way.


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Oct 04, 2010
If the extra water is coming from the oceans via evaporation, then the water returning via rivers, etc. is mostly the same as the water that evaporated, excepting that which is absorbed by soil and sequestered in aquifers. Naturally I would expect that if more water is evaporating from the oceans, more water would be returning via rivers, etc. So, the problem is . . . .?

Oct 04, 2010
The problem is you think you're educated. Do you think all of the water returning to the ocean evaporated only from the ocean? Also can we drink salt water or fresh water? If fresh water is turning into salt water, that's a big deal. Not to mention that rain doesn't always fall from where it was evaporated. I think you read this article just to discount environmentalists' opinions, which I am not but your ignorance disturbs me just the same

Oct 04, 2010
I dont think either of you understand the problem. Fresh water turning into salt water is not a problem. It turns back into fresh water via evaporation and rain. Th problem is this helps "prove" climate change and if no one has noticed the west coast seems to be drying up. But it has happened before so i am not going one way or the other. One thing i imagine happening pretty quick tho is another dust bowl. It has happened before why wouldnt it happen again? How devastating would it be now?

Oct 04, 2010
One thing i imagine happening pretty quick tho is another dust bowl. It has happened before why wouldnt it happen again? How devastating would it be now?


Desertification would have been prevented had expansion and over-population of california been prevented, and had they actually bothered to establish a modern water infrastructure, then the region's rivers and lakes that have been drained by man would still be full.

===

If we had another dust bowl, the U.S. itself would probably come through it just fine in terms of health and nutrition, but not economics. We'd be in deep trouble and require immediate cuts in spending to almost nothing.

As for the rest of the world, there would likely be heavy starvation and general increase in foods prices, since foods are among the U.S. chief exports.

We have the technology to prevent a modern dust bowl, the problem is nobody cares.

If it comes to starvation,you'd wish for a Desalanation plant then, no matter the cost.

Oct 04, 2010
onw of the main causes of the original dust bowl was that dust could blow in a direction without obstacle. We learned that lesson and started changing patterns of fields from one field to the next - farmers even look at their neighbors and plat in a 90 degree angle --- a dust bowl means the top soil is dry and is blowing away -- we have improved irrigation in the last 80 years so that farmers while having to pay for water are able to recieve water -- bigger question is how fast we are using the water under Nebraska and Iowa - that resovior will only last so long --- the issue is the US is in no great danger - now Russia just went through a drought, will they have a bigger one this coming year??

Oct 04, 2010
@LariAnn,

A few issues that you seem to be missing: heavier, more severe, more frequent rainfall leads to reduced aquifer recharge, as a greater proportion of that rainfall returns to the ocean as runoff.
As a consequence of this increased and more energetic runoff, erosion increases, siltation increases, and, in addition to loss of arable land and good topsoil, there is also greater transport of pesticides, fertilizers, and all the other contaminants which collect in soils. All this extra sediment silts up rivers, lakes, streams and oceans, where large swathes of productive, biodiverse bottom regions are blanketed in toxic sediment.
This also increases water pollution in ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans- the most immediate and noticeable effects of which are anoxic "dead zones" and algal/planktonic blooms, such as Red Tide, or the noxious algal mats plagueing the seashore of western Europe.

contd

Oct 04, 2010
contd
Additionally, there are the problems arising through the dilution of seawater by freshwater, which changes its chemical, physical, and thermal properties.
Certainly, this is an ongoing process- but bear in mind that it is an ongoing process that has been largely at equilibrium for the past thousands of years.
Increased rain means more flooding, which means more population displacement and destruction of habitat/farmland. This particular type of evap/precip pattern also means increasing desertification -compounding ills.
It will be very difficult to forsee the consequences of a sudden and significant increase in runoff discharge upon the environment in general and the ocean environment in particular, for instance -is this likely to affect the Overturning and/or Oscillating Ocean Currents? How does it affect the fisheries Industry? Shipping? Tourism?

So, you can see that this is a more complex, broader question than just that of more rain falling in some areas.



Oct 04, 2010
Meh, the javascript ate my previous comment.

It seems the article is more about local effects of changing rainfall patterns than some global ocean changes of salinity or whatnot.

It is the volume that flows into the ocean from rivers that is rising, and the article is correct to point out that this suggests more rainfall and potentially, some negative effects of it.

Also, more water here and less there is necessarily a good thing, as they point out, but there is little in TFA about actual distribution, so not much value in that observation.

At the same time, the article is very, very sensationalist.

This paper ... put[s] together a unique 13-year record – the longest and first of its kind


"First" and "longest" and "record" in the same sentence? Come on. This kind of alarmist writing makes people distrust the reporter and ignore the report even it has important facts.

Skip the marketing drivel, write your summaries in a more sober style.

Oct 04, 2010
LariAnn: You asked a good question. It took me rereading the article to see that the main point, as mertzj indicated, is that it reinforces the models that are predicting more motion of water vapor. As they quote in the article: "Many scientists and models have suggested that if the water cycle is intensifying because of climate change, then we should be seeing increasing river flow. Unfortunately, there is no global discharge measurement network, so we have not been able to tell,"

This is one of the first measurements that has been able to check the model predictions of more water vapor transport. They are not really addressing impact as much as they are addressing a solution to a very difficult measurement problem. Any model needs verification and this is one of the steps toward verification. As they mention in the article they do not have much of a time interval yet, but what they have tracks with the models. This does not validate the models, but contributes to that.

Oct 05, 2010
Yes climate change exists, but it is heavily guided by solar activity as we will see things get colder for a period of quiet solar activity. I can't disagree with us having our impact, but I cannot agree with the alarmists who are portraying so much disaster.

The problem has always been the rich and elite's plans, they are so wasteful, produces garbage, which we never needed in the first place, all so they can fill their fat pockets with the plunderings they extract by any means necessary. Yes we do have an impact, but the united nations is full of fascists who'll do anything to get us to think what they want so they can roll out their new world order. And seeing as how they produced climategate with bs statistics and facts, why on earth should any of us believe them, and their burdensome taxation ponzi scheme, and buy into an article such as this, written up by someone with an extremist bias. The issue is neither black nor white and what we really ought to do is kill reaganomics

Oct 05, 2010
All told, 18 percent more water fed into the world's oceans from rivers and melting polar ice sheets in 2006 than in 1994, with an average annual rise of 1.5 percent. ..and.. "if the water cycle is intensifying because of climate change, then we should be seeing increasing river flow. Unfortunately, there is no global discharge measurement network, so we have not been able to tell,"

Read, people, read!

Oct 05, 2010
"then we should be seeing increasing river flow. Unfortunately, there is no global discharge measurement network, so we have not been able to tell"

Such measurement is extremely difficult. Below all rivers there is a subterranian flow through the earth. In some cases, the underground flow actually excedes the visible surface flow, but not always, and it varies seasonally.

I am left to assume that this study is based on a combination of ground measurements and satelite measurements of precipitation. Ground measurements are spotty, leaving quite a bit of data that has to be extrapolated, and satelite measurements still aren't very accurate. Even the TRMM satellite can't get a good estimate above 35 degrees away from the equator, or over rough terrain. Nighttime estimates are also very rough. Keep in mind that satellites see water in the air, not how much reaches the ground in one place.

Google it if you don't believe me.

Oct 06, 2010
The sun has changed. Its off cycle. Everyone is so pro or anti climate change but they fail to see we do have climate change but not for these stupid political reasons. What bothers me is that we are preparing for global warming when the models show the real possibility of 1600s like mini ice age. Now if people understood how long it takes energy to move through the system they would also see this. Please go to http://en.wikiped..._Minimum
I think global warming is the direct result of peak sunspots from roughly 1950s to 2003. This new solar minimum may cause great strife in the world. Please go to the soho observatory page and check out what the sun looks like today! Scientists are so worried the blackedout the conversations from public. http://sohowww.na...unspots/

Oct 08, 2010
Alarming results from a new study indicate that if our currently accelerating rate of using the word "alarming" continues, every sentence written in the English language will contain the word "alarming" by the year 2114.

This title should read: "Yet another statistical analysis of inconclusive data leads to wild speculation about global precipitation trends"

Then the story could start like this: "Though lacking crucial data about river flow, and using an astoundingly incomplete global rainfall record, a research team jumped to the conclusion that global warming is causing a trend. The researchers felt that this conclusion should be taken seriously because they used the words 'global warming' and have already given permission to use their findings in the next IPCC summary for policymakers. Researcher Jay Famiglietti was quoted as saying 'send money' when asked how we will stop this tragic catastrophe."

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