Most of us, looking out the window today, instead of the expected white fluff, see the gray landscape of a rainy day. What is the importance of water in winter and where can we expect to see wonderful views of white, snow-covered fields? In this reflective time, I would like to remind you of the most important water issues we have addressed this year, issues that matter to us and entire ecosystems, but also tidbits from the world that I hope will make this holiday season more pleasant for you. I will try to flow with the topics so that they form a whole, which will allow you to see the essence of the problem, but also stimulate reflection.

Wodne Sprawy 27 2023 23
Winter reflections on water 1

Snow and its significance

Agnieszka Cupak told us about the importance of snow cover in the process of recharging rivers this year. How important is snow? Very! It is estimated that the volume of water in the form of snow, ice and glaciers on Earth is more than 24 million km3, or 1.74 percent. total amount of water. And in terms of fresh water resources on our globe, it already accounts for about 69 percent. The author stresses that what we are seeing outside the window in recent days, i.e. a rainy winter with no snowfall, will not provide a sufficient supply of water, as this water will quickly drain away from ecosystems.

Staying on the same topic, Marta Saracyn, in an interview with Artur Surowiecki, tried to find an answer to the question: do we care about last year’s snow after all? It is interesting to compare the current state of affairs with what happened until 1990. Snow winters in Poland have definitely decreased. In recent times, they happen once in no more than 4-5 years. We are talking about such winters in which the snow cover remains for at least a week. This is very short compared to years when our country was snowed in for more than 60 days. At the moment we are talking about a maximum of 35-40 days. This difference is very big. It is definitely warmer, especially the end of autumn and the beginning of winter is the period of occurrence of high still temperatures.

In the last decade or so, the air arriving in Europe from the west has been noticeably warmer. This has to do with the fact that the temperature of the waters has risen significantly. This phenomenon affects the surface of all oceans. This is a clear, measurable manifestation of global climate change. This increase in Atlantic surface temperature is also occurring in the European region.

Snow is of great importance for agricultural production, affecting vegetation processes. It mitigates temperature fluctuations in the plant environment, which is important especially for shallow-rooted species. In winter, when the vegetation process dies down, the snow cover provides an insulating layer to protect plants from low temperatures and wind. It also prevents frostbite. It is assumed that the best insulation layer is a snow thickness of more than 10 cm. It is also beneficial for it to gradually dry out when exposed to sub-zero temperatures. Then we don’t have to deal with a compacted, icy layer that cuts off air access. This is why the presence of snow cover and the occurrence of adequate temperatures are so important for plants, especially winter crops.

The impact of anthropogenic activities has also not missed the composition of precipitation, including snow. At the moment, most of us are not threatened by it, but hoping that white fluff will still fall from the sky, in one of my publications I warned – especially our little charges – don’t eat snow.

Snow can act as a sink for various pollutants, including heavy metals, organic compounds and acidifying compounds. This process is known as “dry deposition” because it occurs as a result of particulate matter and gaseous pollutants falling to the surface of the snow rather than as a result of precipitation or runoff.

Frozen water

Ice, or water in its solid state, is by definition colorless and transparent with a crystalline structure formed from particles due to hydrogen bonds. We have written about this form of water in “Water Matters” many times over the year. Disturbing scientific data has been published about changes occurring in the Arctic. Air temperatures in the area last year were the sixth highest in 122 years, the time measurements began. In doing so, they continue a decades-long trend in which temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than the global average. The snow cover was the second lowest in 56 years in the North American Arctic and the third lowest in parts of Eurasia.

Greenland’s ice sheet has experienced ice loss of as much as 36 percent. surfaces. This was the 25th consecutive year showing the loss of some of the country’s ice mass. In various corners of the world, the trend of melting glaciers has been going on for a long time. A case in point is Nepal, where the mountains, part of the majestic Himalayan chain, have lost nearly a third of their glaciers over the past three decades. The data underscore the pace of climate change. Mountains that have been covered with snow for centuries are increasingly presenting bare, rocky slopes. It’s not just a matter of appearance – the melting of glaciers in the mountains is first and foremost a serious consequence for the ecosystems, economy and daily life of the region’s inhabitants.

We wrote about observations using ESMR, which allows us to track daily changes in sea ice extent over polar regions, in the article: Impact of climate warming on changes in sea ice extent. These data today give us the opportunity to better observe how the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is declining under the influence of global warming.

Wodne Sprawy 27 2023 24
Winter reflections on water 2

What about in the water under the ice?

Somewhat jokingly, we are reminded of the theme from a children’s book depicting an angler on a stool over a break. Amazed, he pulls out a block of transparent ice with a fish frozen inside. This picture illustrates our conflicting expectations of what happens in the lake in winter – on the one hand, we know that life must go on there despite the cold and darkness, but on the other, we expect it to be miserable, basically frozen over. We were reminded of the quite rich life under the ice and the conditions there to support it by Iwona Jasser in a publication earlier this year: Does water life die out under the ice in winter?

Life for fish in near-zero water is possible because they accumulate omega3 acids in their cells, which keep their cell membranes flexible and allow them to function normally. In addition, the fish, like zooplankton, benefit from the fat reserves stored in the cells in summer, compensating for the low concentration of food in winter. That’s why they are leaner at the end of winter than in summer and autumn.

Finally, another reference to an interesting publication by our editorial colleague Agnieszka Kolada: Blood on Snow, or about snow algae blooms. As the author explains, the term “red snow” is used to describe a snow bloom caused by freshwater microorganisms, the so-called “red algae”. Snow algae, taking on a characteristic red color. In the United States, it is also called “watermelon snow” because not only is it the color of the flesh of this fruit, but it can also emit a delicate watermelon scent. It is in vain to look for the phenomenon of red snow in the Bieszczady Mountains or on Szczesliwice Hill in Warsaw. These organisms are found in the extreme conditions of permanently persistent snow and glacial fields, in the polar and high mountain regions of the Earth (come to think of it, beyond our border it is possible, for example, in the higher parts of the mountains in Slovakia or the Czech Republic).

Concluding on this fragrant note, I would like to once again draw your special attention to the urgent need to protect aquatic ecosystems and properly manage waters. Let’s immerse ourselves, if only for a moment, in reflection about this resource, think warmly about the snow, with kindness about the rain and with gratitude about the water at the tap, because this is something that is not given to everyone. Every day around the world, hundreds of children die from diseases related to lack of access to safe water and proper sanitation.

I also take this opportunity, during this magical holiday time, on behalf of the editorial staff of Water Matters, to wish you the power of warm wishes – a sea of cordiality, a river of joy and an ocean of rest. May this beautiful time be full of attentiveness and peace. In turn, fill the New Year with bold decisions, new opportunities and fulfilled dreams. “Water Matters” wishes you a wonderful white Christmas with your loved ones!

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