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Science and Innovations

Study: Warmer Temperatures Linked to Diminished Colorado River

Melissa Sevigny

Water in the Upper Colorado River Basin has decreased seven percent since the late 1980s. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports on the results of the new study.

Scientists examined streamflow records for the past century at Lees Ferry in the Grand Canyon, as well as temperature and precipitation records. Their study suggests warmer temperatures are responsible for the decrease in flow.

University of Arizona professor Connie Woodhouse is one of the authors. She says the results have implications for Arizona’s future water supply. "All of the models are saying it’s going to warm, there’s no ambiguity about that," she says. "So I think a message here is that even if we get more precipitation, or the precipitation stays the same, the effects of climate change through warming by itself are going to cause reductions in streamflow."

Woodhouse says 90 percent of the Colorado River’s water originates in the upper basin in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

The study appears in the journal Earth Interactions.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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