Re-evaluate mountain water supplies

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England (Commonwealth Union) – Water remains a commodity that many people across the world still struggle to get access to. The possibility of more intense water shortages in future leading to conflicts, has prompted water security to be a key focus for many nations.

Water security in mountain regions depends on knowing of the interlinks of water supply and requirements going much further than the study of glacier melt. Present knowledge on the ways communities which rely on water from mountain snow and ice impacted by climate change is limited, which is indicated in a new study published in Nature Sustainability.

The research, led by Imperial College London, University of Birmingham, University of Zurich, the British Geological Survey, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and local partners, demonstrate this absence of integrated water security understanding is a result of poor knowledge of occurrences ‘beyond the cryosphere’ which is the contribution from water sources excluding frozen water like hillslopes, wetlands, and groundwater.

The new research showed large gaps in data on ways communities make use of water from glaciers and mountain snow together with other water sources. There is no clear picture due to difficult to understand mountain landscapes, localized weather systems and low densities of data station records. Less availability of new monitoring devices and initiatives, in low-income nations having restricted institutional capacities, obstructs further knowledge of high-altitude data sparse regions. This leads to difficulty in producing models capable of being scaled up across watersheds accurately.

“In mountains, there are complex interconnections between the cryosphere and other water sources, as well as with humans. We need to identify the gaps in our understanding and rethink strategies for water security in the context of climate change adaptation and shifting human needs,” explained Professor David Hannah, UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

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