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River health worsening, in line with climate change predictions

Rivers are a vital source of water throughout the West, and play an essential role in the food chain and the carbon cycle.

But two recent papers show river health is failing, confirming some dire predictions of climate models.

More than half of the 1,000 studies reviewed in the Nature Reviews Earth & Environment paper report that climate change has warmed river water and boosted algae levels.

Both can reduce dissolved oxygen, harming river ecosystems.

The two-decade review of global research also links droughts and heatwaves to higher salinity and pollutant concentrations.

The Nature Climate Change paper, which looked at data from nearly 800 rivers across the U.S. and central Europe, finds rivers are warming and losing oxygen faster than oceans.

The authors project that rivers could soon suffer dead zones, like the Gulf of Mexico in summer.

They also predict certain fish species could die out within the next 70 years.

Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.