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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, January 17, 2014/Categories: natural history, photography, environment, climate change

California is in a major drought. Much of the state's water supply is generated as snow which is largely absent this year. The downward trends in snow cover are not a good sign.

Nothing illustrates the contrast in environmental conditions than the use of re-photography, the capturing of an image at the same location over different periods. Normally photographed over decades or longer, only two winters at Mt. Shasta were imaged. Snows fill the natural "water towers" of the western states providing this critical resource in most years but not so far in 2014. This mountain appears naked when it should be fully clothed in winter snow as a comparison of images show.

Mount Shasta, January 4, 2014                                             November 1, 2013 (credit: Landsat 8)
According to the UC, Merced hydrologists monitoring the Mt. Shasta snowpack:

“The mountain snow cover reflects two dry winters (in 2012 and 2013), plus a December 2013 snowfall that puts Shasta less than 5 percent of the way toward its April 1 average. By January 1, the area is normally at 15 to 30 percent of the April 1 average. Cover is down to or possibly below the ‘permanent’ snow line.”

Skiers enjoy Mt. Shasta, agriculturalists use its water for irrigation, and plants and animals require the mountain's water environment as well. Little is known about these competing needs as the snow pack declines.

Water is the most essential of resources. Naked western mountains in winter reflect the changing climate and can be like the famous "canaries in the coal mines". What a difference a year makes!


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