Share

Global Warming Is Altering the Flow of the Missouri River

August 18, 2014

Stream flows are changing in major ways along the Missouri River thanks in large part to climate change, and those shifts are having big impacts on thousands of farmers, businesses, vacationers and others who depend on it.

The news comes in a U.S. Geological Survey study published in late July, which examined stream flow data from more than 200 streamgages up and down the Missouri between 1960 and 2011.

Nearly half of the streamgages surveyed showed that flows had increased or decreased over time during the past 50 years, with areas in the river's eastern watershed -- in states like Iowa and the Dakotas -- experiencing higher streamflows, while those further west were lower.

That has led to serious water shortages for farmers in places like Montana, where one farmer told the Los Angeles Times he'd had to spend more than $10,000 to remove sand that had choked the irrigation system he uses to farm sugar beets and malted barley.

"Every year it gets worse," Rocky Norby, who has farmed his Montana land along the Missouri for more than two decades, said in an interview with the Times. "There's not enough water to get through our pumps."

But they're seeing the opposite problem to the east, in places like North and South Dakota, where fields along the river are often too muddy from flooding to plant.

It's a pattern climate scientists expect to continue in a world that keeps getting warmer. "Climate change models predict that where it is wet, it will get wetter, and where it is dry, it will get drier," Matt Rice, a program director at the conservation nonprofit American Rivers, told the Times.

Temperatures already have increased between 3 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the Great Plains, the Environmental Protection Agency says, and a rise of roughly 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit is expected for the Missouri River basin by 2050.

The nation's longest river, the Missouri begins high up in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and stretches more than 2,500 miles through 10 states before it reaches St. Louis, where it merges with the Mississippi. Together, the river and its tributaries encompass roughly one-sixth of the continental U.S.

That means the river is a critical resource for tens of millions of people. “The Missouri River and its tributaries are valuable for agriculture, energy, recreation and municipal water supplies,” said Parker Norton, a USGS hydrologist and the study lead author. “Understanding streamflow throughout the watershed can help guide management of these critical water resources.”

The study also cautions that climate change isn't the only reason the Missouri has experienced such big changes in streamflow patterns, pointing out that higher streamflows had been recorded even in places where water usage also had risen, in places like the Dakotas.

Groundwater pumping also may be to blame for lower flows in some areas, the authors note. But the impacts are undeniable, especially in states like Montana, where the Times noted that some of its famous fishing areas have had to be closed during the tourist season because of "low flows, high temperatures and too much stress on fish."

Read the full story in the Los Angeles Times or download the study from the U.S. Geological Survey.

MORE: The Missouri River

 

Featured Blogs

Another Record Rainfall in Southern France

By Christopher C. Burt
September 30, 2014

It is hard to believe that another rainstorm of equal intensity to that which I blogged about just 11 days ago has again struck the Languedoc Region of Southern France. This time the focus of the storm was centered over the city of Montpellier, Herault District, near the Mediterranean Coast.

QuikSCAT's Replacement, the RapidScat Ocean Wind Sensor, Installed on Space Station

By Dr. Jeff Masters
September 30, 2014

A QuikSCAT replacement called ISS-RapidScat was successfully launched on September 20, 2014 on a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft, which docked last week with the International Space Station (ISS.) This morning, astronauts on the ISS used the station's robotic arm to pluck RapidScat out of the Dragon and install it on the Space Station. RapidScat will measure near-surface winds over the ocean.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.