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Electric Water Wars: It’s a Dam Crazy World

More than half of the world’s lakes and two-thirds of its rivers are drying up, threatening ecosystems, farmland, and drinking water supplies. Such diminishing resources are also likely to lead to conflict and even, potentially, all-out war.

The situation is beyond dire. In 2023, it was estimated that upwards of three billion people, or more than 37% of humanity, faced real water shortages, a crisis predicted to dramatically worsen in the decades to come. Consider it ironic then that, as water is disappearing, huge dams — more than 3,000 of them — that require significant river flow to operate are now being built at an unprecedented pace globally.

[Recent] research suggests that hydro-powered dams can create an alarming amount of climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. Rotting vegetation at the bottom of such reservoirs, especially in warmer climates (as in much of Africa), releases significant amounts of methane, a devastating greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

“We estimate that dams emit around 25% more methane by unit of surface than previously estimated,” says Bridget Deemer of the School of Environment at Washington State University in Vancouver, lead author of a highly-cited study on greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs. “Methane stays in the atmosphere for only around a decade, while CO2 stays several centuries, but over the course of 20 years, methane contributes almost three times more to global warming than CO2.”

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The Nation

Washington’s snowpack on track to decrease by nearly half by 2080s

The snowpack in Washington’s mountain ranges has seen up to a 60% decrease over 75 years and that trend will likely continue for the rest of the century.

Jim Smith owns and operates Snow Sports Northwest, a ski school based at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington that teaches hundreds of students every year. His father founded the company in the late 60s.  Scott Goddard was hired by Smith’s father in 1983 and has an equally long history skiing this area. Goddard now runs the Saturday school. The school’s instructors have the task of navigating the terrain with hundreds of kids, something made harder in season’s like this year. The season’s El Niño forecast has delivered. Snow totals are a fraction of normal, creating a domino effect on many industries.

A map from the EPA shows the trends in April snowpack in the western U.S. from 1955 to 2022. In Washington, most areas’ snowpack is down between 20 to 30%, with some areas decreasing as much as 50 to 60%. 

Washington State University PhD candidate Luke Reyes is based in Vancouver, Washington, and is devoting his studies to snowpack vulnerability in the western United States. Reyes and his research team recently published this study, which analyzed the snowpack during the Pacific Northwest heat dome of 2021, when temperatures skyrocketed into the triple digits for days straight and killed hundreds of people in the region.

“People would post all these before and after pictures and they’d be hiking on Mount St. Helens or Mount Rainier and there’d be snow one day and there’s nothing a week later,” said Reyes.

But when Reyes and his team looked at the numbers, they realized something huge. The heat dome is not the only reason the snow melted.

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Recent weather won’t reverse snow drought in Pacific Northwest

This week’s snowfall likely won’t be enough to pull the Pacific Northwest out of its snow drought.

Snowpacks were at a record low across the Western U.S. in early January, the National Integrated Drought Information System reported last week. The Cascade Mountains’ snowpack is 40 percent to 60 percent of normal. Record lows also extend to California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming, with the northern Rocky Mountains facing the brunt of the snow drought.

“It is kind of striking that the pattern here is so widespread,” said Luke Gilbert Reyes, a doctoral student at Washington State University Vancouver who studies snowpack.

Multiple atmospheric rivers dumped snow atop mountains in early December. However, temperatures increased and light flakes turned to heavy rain, resulting in little mountaintop snow accumulation across the West. A dry wave lingered for the rest of the month, worsening the snow drought.

If winter precipitation is constant and temperatures remain cool through March, the snowpack might rebound, Reyes said. However, the current El Niño winter — abnormally warm and dry — will ultimately lead to below-average snow accumulation, he said.

Yet this seasonal weather pattern isn’t the only contributing factor hindering snow levels.

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The Columbian




Are anxiety and depression social problems or chemical disorders?

Two anthropologists question the chemical imbalance theory of mental health disorders.

Twentieth-century science was supposed to change everything. Indeed, thanks to vaccinations, antibiotics, and improved sanitation, humans thrived like never before. Yet in that mix was thrown pharmacological treatments for mental health disorders. On that front, little progress has been made.

It can be argued—it is being argued, in a new paper in American Journal of Physical Anthropology—that we’re regressing in our fight against mental health problems. As Kristen Syme, a PhD student in evolutionary anthropology, and Washington State University anthropology professor Edward Hagen argue, psychopharmacological treatments are increasing alongside mental health disorder diagnoses. If the former worked, the latter would decrease.

There are numerous problems with the current psychiatric model. Journalist Robert Whitaker has laid out the case that antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other pharmacological interventions are the real culprit behind chemical imbalances in the brain—a psychiatric talking point that’s been challenged for over a half-century. Patients suffering from minor anxiety and depression are placed on ineffective drugs, often being placed on a cocktail of pills. With many consumer advocacy groups being funded by pharmaceutical companies, we’ve reached a tipping point in mental health protocols.

As Syme and Hagan write, consumer advocacy groups are not the only compromised organizations. One review of 397 clinical trials discovered 47 percent of these studies reported at least one conflict of interest.

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Guide on how to use climate data to inform human adaptation

A framework for combining climate and social data could help scientists better support climate change adaptation ahead of future weather-related disasters.

The Washington State University-led research draws on the expertise of climate and social scientists to show how data on different characteristics of climate variability can be used to study the effectiveness of various human responses to climate change. It could ultimately help policymakers and organizations determine where and under what conditions different climate adaptations have worked in the past and where they may work in the future.

“Our framework enables researchers across many fields to better study the relationship between characteristics of climate and adaptation, including which adaptations emerge under which conditions,” said Anne Pisor, lead author of the paper in the journal One Earth and a WSU associate professor of anthropology. “Our hope is this research will help the global community heed warnings from the recent United Nations Climate Conference (COP28) and direct adaptation funding into programs and efforts that can better support communities as they respond to ongoing change.”

Pisor’s coauthors for the study included Deepti Singh, assistant professor in the WSU School of the Environment.

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WSU Insider