Arctic communities could start running out of fresh water

Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s northernmost province Nunavut, could start running out of fresh water by 2024. Climate change and increased demand are to blame, found researchers from York University.

“Extreme climates make the management of fresh water difficult, but add climate change to the mix, along with too few financial and human resources, and northern cities, such as Iqaluit could run out of fresh water,” Andrew Medeiros of York University, who led the study, said in a statement.

Even if population growth remains stagnant, current climate change projections show that demand will outstrip supply for freshwater in the Arctic community, said Medeiros. But as Iqaluit – located on the remote Baffin Island – is a growing city, the pressure on water resources will only increase.

Until now, various methods to increase freshwater supply have only helped to extend it for a couple of years. Medeiros and his team turned to novel hydrologic modelling and climate forecasting methods to look ahead 20 years.

One forecasting looked into the possibility of diverting water from a nearby river, something the city plans to do to help solve the water shortage. The researchers found that the river could be used as an alternative source of freshwater on a seasonal basis, but it would only extend the water supply by two years if only 10 per cent is diverted, as recommended by the Canadian fisheries and oceans agency.

Many northern Canadian communities rely on only a single, small shallow lake reservoir or seasonal replenishment systems for their freshwater. As the climate warms in the Arctic, these may not always be sustainable as temperatures in the Arctic have increased close to twice the global rate and are expected to further increase.

The research highlights the need to address end-of-winter water shortages, due to climate change, with over winter replenishment. Otherwise, consumption restrictions would be necessary.

“Arctic lakes are especially vulnerable to climate change,” said Medeiros, who called the “availability, quality and security of freshwater in the Canadian Arctic an increasingly pressing issue.”


Image credit: Amanda Graham, flickr/Creative Commons

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