From oceans to clouds to oceans again - it's an ongoing cycle that's been around since before any living organism walked the earth: liquid water evaporates from oceans, condenses to form clouds, which then precipitate back to the ground. Although we've grown to rely on this seemingly steady and dependable cycle, climate change has been making rapid and dramatic changes to our atmosphere.
A recent study published in Nature has revealed that the water cycle has been shifting drastically, based on observations of changes in our oceans. The study sheds light on the urgent actions needed to be taken to end the emissions of gases that are warming the atmosphere - otherwise, the water cycle could potentially turn into something we no longer recognize. The warming temperature of the Earth is slowly increasing in a way that causes freshwater to leave dry areas of our planet and end up in regions that are already wet. In turn, this could also lead to extreme weather in different parts of the globe - severe droughts in places that are already dry, and extreme storms and flooding in other areas.
Unfortunately, this shift has already begun, according to a 2021 report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). From the megadrought impacting the western side of North America to the unprecedented floods in Germany, changes we're already beginning to see are unfortunately just the beginning. And while we know the impact of climate change on the changing water cycle, the scientists fear they still don't know how fast it's happening.
One reason it's difficult to measure these changes is our lack of measurements of rainfall and evaporation on our planet. Not only is it hard to set up permanent rain gauges or evaporation pans, but we also don't have previous measurements from decades ago that we need to assess change over the long term. One solution scientists have considered is using our salty oceans, where we can rely on changes in their salinity to detect shifts in the water cycle. Previous research conducted in this manner has found already drastic shifts in our water cycle - which has been causing severe weather in different regions of the globe. And the fastest way to stop the rapid change is to end greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. With future generations relying solely on the decisions we make today, it is up to us to save our planet.