90 percent of the energy in the United States comes from burning fossil fuels.
Earth has been changing for billions of years. Part of this change includes the changes in climate, which are sometimes subtle — but recently have been quite dramatic. Today’s changes have a distinct difference from historic changes: humans. The impact that industrialization has had on Earth over the last couple centuries has sped up these changes in drastic ways.
Everyday actions (like turning on a light in your home or driving a car) require energy, and 90 percent of the energy in the United States comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. The burning of fossil fuels releases various gases into the atmosphere. These gases accumulate and some act to form a thermal barrier, trapping reflected solar heat at Earth’s surface. This warms our planet, impacting weather and precipitation patterns we have come to depend on.
Air bubbles trapped in ice contain traces of carbon dioxide.
Scientists have observed the climate is changing in many ways — through more intense weather events, rising temperatures across the globe, shrinking ice sheets and glaciers, and rising levels of carbon dioxide. By studying air bubbles trapped in ice, scientists can determine how much carbon dioxide was in the air when the ice was formed. Even further, they can identify the type of carbon dioxide by studying its unique signature, or "isotopes". This signature tells scientists whether the carbon dioxide is from a natural process or from the burning of fossil fuels (like the gas we use in our cars). Researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) also use data on the size and volume of sea ice and glaciers to calculate where the ice is thinning and how vulnerable it is to further melting.
A researcher walks along an icy beach.
In the Southwest deserts, historic temperature readings and data, such as streamflows, help determine how the climate has changed. These real world measurements coupled with computer models help make predictions about what the future may hold for our climate.
Beginning in 2004, climate change became one of the top science stories in the media and continues to be trending today with thousands of research publications on the subject from 2005-2015 in North America alone. Research indicates that climate change impacts glaciers and ice caps, water sources, sea levels, both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, as well human health and economics.
- Pachauri, R.K. and L.A. Meyer (eds.). (2014) IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.
- DiMento, J.F.C. and P. Doughman. (2008). Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-). Vol. 84, No. 6 (Nov., 2008), pp. 1320-1321
- Kopicki, A. (2014). Is Global Warming Real? Most Americans Say Yes. New York Times. June 1, 2014.
- Shwartz, M. (2010). Majority of Americans continue to believe that global warming is real. Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University. March, 13, 2010.
- 2000 Years of Cultural Adaptation to Climate Change in the Southwestern United States. Eric Blinman, Ambio, Special Report Number 14. Royal Colloquium: Past Climate Change: Human Survival Strategies (Nov., 2008), pp. 489-497
Both water demands and water availability from the Colorado River watershed over the next several decades are uncertain. Many driving factors such as streamflow, climate, watershed conditions, municipal populations and distributions, conservation, agricultural use, public lands, water use for energy production, and water quality will influence water availability across the Colorado River states and create an unpredictable future. The role of conservation techniques, recycling and water transfer will continue to be of utmost importance in the future.
- U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2012. Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html.
- Barnett, T.P., D.W. Pierce and P. Gleick. (2009). Sustainable Water Deliveries from the Colorado River in a Changing Climate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol. 106, No. 18 (May 5, 2009), pp. 7334-7338
- Groves, D.G. et. al. (2013). Adapting to a Changing Colorado River: Making Future Water Deliveries More Reliable Through Robust Management Strategies. Publisher: RAND Corporation.
- Summitt, A.R. (2013). Contested Waters: An Environmental History of the Colorado River. University Press of Colorado.
- Gillis, J. (2015). California Drought Is Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say. Justin Gillis. New York Times. August 20, 2015.
As communities like Las Vegas become more urbanized, roads, parking lots and buildings have caused an Urban Heat Island (UHI) — a warming of urban areas. This, coupled with forecasts of drier weather and our continued population growth, will challenge what our urban environment can withstand.
The temperature difference in a UHI is usually more apparent in the evening and when there is minimal wind.
- Bureau of Reclamation. 2007. Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead Final Environmental Impact Statement.
- Christensen, N. S. and Lettenmaier, D. P.: A multimodel ensemble approach to assessment of climate change impacts on the hydrology and water resources of the Colorado River Basin, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1417-1434, doi:10.5194/hess-11-1417-2007, 2007.
- National Research Council. Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007. doi:10.17226/11857.
- Hall, N.D., Stuntz, B.B. and R.H. Abrams. (2008). Climate Change and Freshwater Resources. Natural Resources & Environment. Vol. 22, No. 3 (Winter 2008), pp. 30-35.
- Kahn, M.E. (2009) Urban Growth and Climate Change. Annual Review of Resource Economics. Vol. 1 (2009), pp. 333-349.
- Miller, J.A. (2011). Urban and Regional Temperature Trends in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science. Vol. 43, No. 1 (2011), pp. 27-39.
- Futrell, R. (2001). THE EXPENDABLE CITY: Las Vegas and the Limits of Sustainability. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. Vol. 26, No. 1/2 (2001), pp. 81-112.
- Pan, L. et. al. (2011). Influences of climate change on California and Nevada regions revealed by a high-resolution dynamical downscaling study. Climate Dynamics. 37:2005–2020.