UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Is it possible to detect if global warming is affecting the Santa Inez River?
Question Date: 2007-03-05
Answer 1:

This is a very important question, but it's also a difficult one to answer. Some of the changes that global warming would produce are pretty complex. For example, we would predict more severe weather because of increased energy into the whole global environment. This could lead to heavier rain in some areas, but drought in others.

The temperature in Santa Barbara doesn't vary much over the year because the ocean holds a lot of heat. In other words it "buffers" the temperature. If you go over the mountains, the temperature varies a lot more, and that is where most of the water in the Santa Inez River comes from.

Another thing that makes this a more complex question is that the water in this river is first stored in Lake Cachuma (which is really a reservoir). Water engineers can decide to release more or less water as supply and demand change. This buffers possible changes in the river's flow. Of course, there's a limit to this. If there's a drought for along time, they won't have enough water in the reservoir to provide the flow. This is particularly true if there's a high demand for water. If there's way more water than usual for a long time, they will need to release some of it to protect the dam.

How do you predict flow will influence the temperature of water in the river? In other words, if a lot of water is flowing, will it be colder or warmer than usual? How will flow influence how much sediment (dirt,mud, etc.) is in the water? How will it influence erosion of the banks?How will all of this influence what lives in the water? Hint: warmer water holds less oxygen than colder water.

Thanks for asking,

Answer 2:

You are asking a difficult question!

It might be hard to know for sure if global warming is affecting the Santa Inez River.We would probably need useful records for the last 50 yrs or more about something such as the water level at certain times of the year, or the plants and animals living in the river, and how many of each kind were there. We would need records of rainfall and temperature- those records are probably available. We might be able to see if there is some gradual change in water level, but we would need to be sure that the change wasn't due to changes in how much water is being taken from the river to water grape vines or something like that.Changes in plants and animals and microorganisms in the river would be even harder to compare to global warming, because lots of plants and animals might change because of changes in the numbers of people and plants and animals that live and grow beside the river and use the water or put fertilizer on crops or do other things to change the river.

Best wishes,

Answer 3:

Yes - although it is extremely difficult.

People who study climate are still divided as to how much global warming is happening, because it is difficult to measure, and there are still some who don't think global warming is happening at all. The problem essentially is this: the year-to-year fluctuations in the world's climate dwarf the effects of global warming over a similar timescale. It takes decades to really be sure of global warming, and even then, the absolute changes are small. Last, climate is complex: as *most* of the Earth warms, some of it cools, and we aren't really able to predict well where the warming and where the cooling will occur.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use