Parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are drying out due to climate-driven changes in stream flows, and these states will shift to become more like the most arid states of the Southwest, federal researchers found in a scientific study published this week.
The lead author of the study said Colorado will experience a 50% to 60% reduction in snow by 2080.
“We’re not saying Colorado is going to become a desert. But we see increased aridity moving forward,” said hydrologist Katrina Bennett at the federal government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The researchers used an artificial intelligence “machine learning” system that allowed them to analyze massive amounts of data collected over 30 years including soil moisture, volumes of water in streams, evapotranspiration rates, temperature and precipitation across the varying landscapes within the Colorado River Basin. Tracking the West’s hydrology on such a scale previously would have taken years.
They concluded that large losses of snow will transform high elevation areas and that the phenomenon of melting snow that creates water will disappear entirely in some areas as temperatures rise.