Warming may increase long droughts in Utah

Published: Saturday, Aug. 4 2007 12:08 a.m. MDT

Global warming has already begun to impact Utah, and unless something changes it will lead to a decline in snowpack and prolonged droughts in the state in coming years.

That's according to "Climate Change and Utah: The Scientific Consensus," a draft report presented Tuesday to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change by a group of eight scientists.

"The scientific community has a tremendous amount of agreement that the Earth is warming and that humans are responsible for the warming over the last 50 years," said Jim Steenburgh, the leader of the team of scientists. "There's very little dissent left."

The Earth's average temperature has increased by about 1 1/2 degrees during the past 100 years, and sea level has risen 7 inches. If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, the average global temperature could increase by as much as seven degrees in the next 100 years, the report says.

Inland areas like Utah are affected more than average by global warming because oceans temper variations in temperature. Utah's average temperature has increased by about two degrees in the past 100 years.

"Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions at or above current levels will likely result in a decline in Utah's mountain snowpack, and the threat of severe and prolonged episodic drought in Utah is real," according to the report.

Several climate trends observed in the western United States during the past 50 years, including earlier spring runoff, longer growing seasons and earlier blooming of flowers, have been caused by global warming, the report says.

BRAC commissioned the scientists to focus on science rather than politics, and the report is "strictly a summary of current understanding of climate science," Steenburgh said.

The team consists of scientists from the University of Utah, Utah State University, Brigham Young University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. BRAC members will now review the draft report and give comments to the scientists, who will then issue a final draft to be presented to Huntsman.

Huntsman formed BRAC in August 2006 to review the science of climate change as it relates to Utah and consider policies to address the issues raised by global warming.

"This is a huge challenge to face," Steenburgh said. "There are no easy solutions."


E-mail: dfelix@desnews.com

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