The latest national climate assessment captures the future impacts of a warming planet more completely than reports that have come before it, UNLV geology professor Matt Lachniet says.

Lachniet studies climate history that extends thousands of years into the past, and what he’s learned from his research can give us an idea of what Nevada is capable of sustaining today, and into the future.

As he puts it, Nevada is moving in only one direction: to a place that will only become hotter and drier.

“There’s nothing that’s going to save us from that,” he said.

But if some changes are made, we can lessen the degree to which that happens, and also stem the loss of our water supply. We caught up with Lachniet to understand what Nevada, and the West, can learn from the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

A major takeaway: We’re really looking at reduced flow of water in the Colorado River — a region that sustains 55 million people. Warmer temperatures are causing less of the snowpack from the Rocky Mountains to make it into the river, and we have less water available.

There’s two reasons why the water levels in Lake Mead are receding: we’re using more than nature is giving us, and nature is giving us less. And the decrease in water flow has a lot to do with rising temperatures. There’s less snowfall in the winter because temperatures are higher. When the Spring season comes, there’s less melting snow that goes into the river.

About Lachniet: Lachniet is a climate scientist who focuses on paleoclimatology, which is the study of climate variations over the last few hundred thousand years. His primary focus is speleoclimatology — a field that concentrates on the use of cave deposits to understand past climate variations. Most recently he’s been diving in caves in Central America to bring greater understanding to climate history as it relates to the Maya civilization.