Analysis of nearly 1,000 studies has unveiled widespread damage to river water quality.

An international team, led by Utrecht University in the Netherlands and featuring scientists from the University of Adelaide, scrutinised 965 studies conducted across all continents between 2000 and 2022. 

Their findings paint a grim picture of climate-induced harm to rivers globally.

The research revealed that multidecadal climate change had heightened water temperatures and algae levels in 56 per cent of the examined studies, contributing to a significant decline in dissolved oxygen levels in river water. 

Droughts and heatwaves were also pinpointed as culprits, causing increased salinity and elevated concentrations of contaminants like pharmaceuticals.

Associate Professor Luke Mosley, a participant in the research, expressed concern about the severe impact of climate change on global water quality. 

He highlighted the vital role of rivers as ecosystems and as sources of drinking water and agriculture, saying poor water quality could render river water unsuitable for these purposes.

Australian data included in the review, led by Professor Mosley during the Millennium Drought from 2007 to 2020, showcased the dire consequences of climate-driven water quality deterioration, such as extreme salinisation and acidification in the River Murray and Lower Lakes, as well as ecological crises like the Lower Darling River fish kills in 2019.

Dr Michelle van Vliet from Utrecht University, who spearheaded the study, called for greater attention to water quality monitoring in non-Western countries, stressing the need for a more global perspective.

While the research highlights the alarming global consequences of climate change on water quality, Professor Mosley remains hopeful. 

He believes that the long-term perspective provided by the team's work will drive the development of innovative water management systems.

Professor Mosley called for enhanced understanding of complex interactions between climate, geography, and human factors, along with the development of technologies and frameworks to bolster robust water quality management strategies in the face of increasing hydroclimatic extremes.

More details are accessible here.