Earth’s water cycle is undergoing alarming changes, satellite data show

(ORDO NEWS) — Climate change is disrupting the Earth’s water cycle. Fresh waters around the world are getting fresher and salty waters are getting saltier, according to new satellite data. If this trend continues, it will lead to increased rain showers.

The findings indicate a major acceleration in the global water cycle, a sign that is not as clear in direct salinity measurements from ocean buoys, which typically measure slightly below the ocean surface. However, it is usually predicted in climate models.

As global temperatures rise, climatologists expect more evaporation to occur on the ocean surface, making the top layer of the sea more salty and adding moisture to the atmosphere.

This, in turn, will increase precipitation in other parts of the world, diluting some water bodies and making them even less saline.

This picture can be described as “wet-wet-wet-dry-dry-dry” and is a real cause for concern. If the water cycle is accelerated due to global warming, it could have a profound impact on modern society, causing drought and water scarcity, as well as increased storms and floods.

Snowmelt may even begin to accelerate as precipitation increases in the polar regions.

“This increase in the amount of water circulating in the atmosphere could also explain the increase in precipitation seen in some of the polar regions, where the fact that it rains instead of snow accelerates the melt,” explains mathematician Estrella Olmedo of Barcelona’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

At the extreme North and extreme South Poles of our planet, there are fewer ocean buoys that directly measure surface salinity. The new satellite analysis is the first to provide a global perspective on this issue.

“Where the wind is no longer as strong, the surface water heats up but does not exchange heat with the water below, which allows the surface to become saltier than the lower layers and makes it possible to observe the effect of evaporation using satellite measurements,” explains physicist Antonio Turiel from the Institute of Marine Sciences in Spain.

“This tells us that the atmosphere and ocean are interacting more strongly than we imagined, with important implications for continental and polar regions.”

The latest climate models predict that for every degree Celsius of warming, the Earth’s water cycle could be activated by 7 percent.

Practically, this means that wet areas could become 7 percent wetter and dry areas 7 percent drier.

Global satellite data confirm these predictions. In tropical and mid-latitude regions, researchers have found significant differences between salinity measurements from buoys and satellite salinity measurements.

Recent measurements more clearly show changes in the Earth’s water cycle.

“In particular, in the Pacific Ocean, we have seen that surface salinity decreases more slowly than subsurface salinity, and in the same region we have observed an increase in sea surface temperature and a decrease in the intensity of winds and the depth of the mixing layer,” says Estrella Olmedo.

The authors argue that future ocean models should include satellite salinity data as it appears to be a valid proxy for global evaporation and precipitation fluxes.

The only way to prevent more heatwaves, droughts and storms in the future is to limit global warming, and there is still a lot that humanity can do.

The world is already set for a certain level of change. According to the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change, if we can keep global warming below 2°C, extreme weather events will be 14% worse than at the start of the industrial revolution.

This is a major change. In 2021, the United Nations warned that the coming decades are likely to bring a series of catastrophic droughts. When almost a quarter of the world is already experiencing water shortages, the consequences can be dire.


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