Impact of climate change

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New Mexico's climate has changed over the centuries. The ancient native peoples began farming the area in approximately 1500 B.c.E. Optimum rainfall brought increased population and arable farmland. A Medieval climate anomaly in the southwest during the 8th and 12th centuries, caused human hardship. In approximately 1250 c.E., the changing weather pattern caused two decades of severe drought and the people moved from places like Chaco Canyon to water sources higher in the Colorado Plateau.

Climate models vary on temperature increase for New Mexico, from 2-7 degrees F (1-4 degrees C) in autumn, from 2-9 degrees F (1-5 degrees C) in summer and winter, and from 1-5 degrees F (0.5-3 degrees C) in spring by the end of the century. Potential risks include decreased summer water supplies. A warmer climate would mean more winter rain and less snowfall in the mountains for snowmelt in the spring to feed New Mexico's streams, the major source of surface water throughout central and southern parts of the state. The levels of reservoirs would drop because of increased evaporation caused by higher temperatures. Water supplies for municipal districts and irrigation in the densely populated Rio Grande Valley, where Albuquerque is located, would become more restricted, increasing reliance on groundwater, although decreasing spring and summer recharge would lower groundwater levels too, impacting the eastern and southeastern areas of the state, which rely on groundwater already.

Hotter, drier summers increase the risk for wildfires as well as droughts, and flooding could be caused by rapid snowmelt in the spring. More severe summer downpours could lead to more frequent flash flooding. Flooding increases the possibility of contamination of water supplies by sediment erosion, and also increases levels of pesticides and fertilizers and runoff from grazing, mining, and urban areas. The yields of some crops like wheat and sorghum would decrease as temperatures rise over the tolerance level for optimal growth. With less water available for irrigation, farming on the whole could decrease as well.

Human health risks include contracting certain infectious diseases from water contamination or disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents (rodent-borne diseases are prevalent in New Mexico. Increased rodent populations have been associated with El NiƱo). Warmer temperatures would increase the incidence of heat-related illnesses and lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution causing respiratory illnesses (diminished lung function, asthma, and respiratory inflammation).

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