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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Civil Engineering in a Changing Climate: Glacier Recession Impacts on Water Supply

Glenn Tootle, Assistant ProfessorCollege of Engineering - Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Mountain glaciers are important regional climate change indicators due to their high sensitivity to temperature and precipitation changes. Recent studies in the Northern and Central Rocky mountains of North America indicate glaciers are retreating in response to regional climate warming. This results in significant impacts on summer stream flows, which replenish reservoirs and provide irrigation water for agriculture purposes. Civil Engineers are faced with the challenge of quantifying the impacts of glacier recession, which includes the loss of glacial mass, and the delay of runoff due to the storage/release of internal liquid water and delayed snowmelt. Glaciers are located in high elevation watersheds where the agricultural growing season is limited. A continued loss of these “frozen reservoirs” and the resulting impact on the timing of runoff (earlier in the growing season) requires Civil Engineers to develop adaptable and sustainable alternatives such as new impoundments or the development of groundwater resources.​

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