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Impacts of Carbon Footprints on the Water Cycle of Earth

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Muniba Usman
Muniba Usmanhttps://scientiamag.org
Muniba Usman is a high school teacher and teaching trainer by profession. She has a BS (HONS) in Microbiology and a diploma in Textile and Fashion design. She has a strong passion for research, arts, reading and writing. She has written many scientific articles and fiction stories for children.

The hydrological cycle, commonly referred to as the water cycle, is the cyclic flow of water in the form of vapors, droplets, crystals, and compounds from the earth’s surface (including underground) to the atmosphere and back from the atmosphere to the earth’s surface.

This cyclic flow of water maintains the overall balance of the ecosystem. As a whole, plant and animal life, organic and inorganic factors of the planet rely on water for their growth and energy flow. Any disturbance in this cyclic flow of water can bring drastic changes in the chemistry of the entire ecosystem.

Change in the atmospheric conditions

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the atmospheric conditions of planet Earth have been tormented by harsh conditions. The so-called industrial revolution and technological takeover of the organic planet have embedded multiple layers of carbon dioxide in the air. Carbon dioxide concentrations are rising due to the burning of fossil fuels for energy purposes.

Fossil fuels like oil and coal are the leading causes of returning carbon to the atmosphere that they absorbed from plants millions of years ago. Still, the difference is carbon absorption took thousands of years, and its return is happening in just a few hundred. Consequently, the emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased multifold every decade, from almost 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year in the 1960s to an estimated 36.6 billion tons in 2022, according to the Global Carbon Budget 2022.

New research carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL; Richland, Washington) claims that in equatorial and tropical regions, due to human activities and changing atmospheric conditions, the pattern of the monsoon season has changed i.e., it arrives approximately 4 days later than usual.

This is a slight delay; however, it might increase the severity of pre-monsoon heat wave patterns and wildfires at a considerable rate. Consequently, it delays crop production in the area, which later poses severe threats to the economy of the local communities.

“The global warming has already been attributed to human activities with high confidence,” PNNL atmospheric scientist and study co-author Ruby Leung said in a release. “But historically, we have not been very successful in pinpointing the footprint of human activity in the hydrological cycle. This study shows that the later onset of monsoon rainfall, paired with future warming projected by climate models, has already emerged.”

Effects on water

This overall embedding of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects every inch of the atmosphere adversely. The most affected parameter is the water that is present on Earth in various forms: as solid in ice, as a liquid in reservoirs, as gas in vapors, as a compound, as a soluble solute, as an insoluble solute, as a solvent, and as a part of mixtures too.

Water is a universal entity found everywhere and is almost entirely affected. According to the director of Columbia Water Center, Upmanu Lall, most global warming and climate change impacts primarily affect the water.

The global warming has already been attributed to human activities with high confidence

 Greenhouse gas effects

The increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might be the underlying cause of the intensification of the water cycle. According to the laws of physics, the saturation of vapour increases by 7% when the temperature rises by 1°C (as explained in the Clausius-Clapeyron Equation).

Carbon dioxide is a non-pollutant gas in the atmosphere and a minor constituent of air (approximately 356 parts per million), but it has the ability to change the global climate. Hence, this is why it is one of the severe concerns. Among most of the gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide gas is primarily responsible for the change in climate and consequently contributes to climate change or global warming.

How are carbon footprints lined with the water cycle?

Global warming triggers changes in the global water cycle and primarily impacts the increase in vapour pressure in the atmosphere. This leads to vigorous changes in the precipitation patterns regarding frequency, intensity and overall moisture in groundwater.

How does the change in the environment affect the water cycle? The answer to this question is simple; it’s not directly the carbon dioxide that goes up to get incorporated in any of the water cycle steps, yet it’s the chain of events that causes the disturbance in the whole cyclic system.

Like, when the global temperatures increase, the evaporation rate also increases; the more the evaporation, the more condensation and precipitation. However, the high rates of evaporation and precipitation are not evenly distributed around the world. Some areas experience intense precipitation; some areas become more prone to drought.

The meteorological data predicts that the coastal regions will become wetter comparatively, and the middle of the continents will experience dry conditions in the coming few years.

When the air gets warm, its moisture-holding capacity also increases. As a result, the warm air will suck up more water from water reservoirs like oceans, lakes, soil, and plants. More water escaping the earth’s surface means more dry conditions left behind, which will obviously have negative but long-lasting impacts on drinking water and agriculture.

On the flip side, the warmer air threatens all forms of life, including humans. One of the studies carried out at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory found that the higher rate of humidity will intensify the temperatures in the future in some places on Earth by blocking the cooling effect caused by our sweat.

What happens to the respiration?

Meteorologically, precipitation is the product formed after the condensation of water vapours in the form of clouds and falls afterwards due to gravitational pull. The primary forms of precipitation are drizzle, sleet, ice pellets, snow, hail, and graupel. 

The intensification and strengthening of the water cycle have profound effects on climate change, and this effect has been observed since 1980. Also, the intensification of precipitation events negatively affects the availability of freshwater reservoirs, oceans, ice sheets, atmosphere, and land surfaces.

When the water vapours start condensing, the extra warm and wet air cools down, resulting in heavy rain showers or snowfalls followed by stormy winds. Since 1979, the Northeastern and Central regions of the U.S. have experienced a drastic shift in weather patterns, with the most significant increase in heavy precipitation and frequent thunderstorms.

 The changing climate has not only accelerated the evaporation of water vapors on the oceans and earth’s surface, but it has also accelerated the water cycle, which in turn altered the global precipitation patterns at large.

Graphically, the precipitation curves regarding the average annual precipitation in California vary considerably but generally follow a steady declining trend. Snowfall rather than rainfall is predicted to increase in the future, and high precipitation is likely to put a strain on California’s water supplies.

The carbon footprint continuously impacts the environment’s biotic and abiotic factors, which leads to the significant unbalancing of a whole natural biome. The lead author Estrella Olmedo of the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM) in Barcelona, about the changes in water cycle patterns due to carbon footprint and climate change, stated, “The acceleration of the water cycle has implications both at the ocean and on the continent, where storms could become increasingly intense”.

The normality of the ecosystem is on the verge of drastic disturbances, and the top contributor is water. The limiting laws might control the climatic crisis; otherwise, the atmospheric disturbances are irreversible.


Also, Read: The mysterious origin of water on Earth

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