Climate change doubles toxic metals in Colorado mountain streams

Toxic metals are find their way into Colorado's mountain streams
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  • Scientists have found increasing levels of harmful metals like copper and zinc in Colorado mountain streams.
  • These metal concentrations have roughly doubled over the past 30 years.
  • This pollution comes from natural sources but is made worse by climate change.
  • Higher temperatures likely cause these changes by melting frozen areas in the mountains.

April 26, 2024 — Colorado’s beautiful mountain streams are in trouble. A new study has found that heavy metals like zinc and copper are dramatically increasing. These metals, even in small amounts, can harm wildlife and ecosystems downstream. Even more concerning is that the levels of these metals have doubled in just 30 years.

What’s causing this? The rocks of the Colorado mountains naturally contain sulfide minerals. These minerals react when exposed, causing acidity and metal pollution – a process known as acid rock drainage. Climate change is accelerating this process. Warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation are likely melting frozen ground in higher elevations of the mountains. It’s this melting that exposes previously untouched rock to the elements, making the whole pollution problem worse.

This research shows the urgent need to understand how climate change alters our world, even in unexpected ways.

Report:  Climate-Driven Increases in Stream Metal Concentrations in Mineralized Watersheds Throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains, USAOpens in a new tab.

Authors: Andrew H. Manning, Tanya N. Petach, Robert L. Runkel, Diane M. McKnight

Research First Published: April 2, 2024


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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April 27, 2024 10:54 pm
Nature caused pollution. Climate change is alive and well and seems to be eating the planet in some form or another. I remember learning about aerosols eating the ozone layer, that was about 1973. Today we can see much clearer the clues that we were experiencing global changes back ‘in the day’. I hope we strive to combat the negative and destructive changes that come our way.

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