Quantcast

3°C May Double Europe’s Drought Risk

Climate
Low – or no – water in a drought-stricken Spanish reservoir in 2016. Basotxerri / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Tim Radford

If average global temperatures rise by just 3°C, then Europe's drought risk could increase to double the area faced with drying out. Right now, just 13 percent of the continent can be counted as a drought-prone region. As the thermometer soars, this proportion could rise to 26 percent.

And 400 million people could feel the heat as the water content in the European soils begins to evaporate. The worst droughts will last three to four times longer than they did in the last decades of the last century.


The number of months of drought in southern Europe could increase significantly. In this zone drought is already measured more than 28 percent of the land area: this could, in the most extreme scenario, expand to 49 percent.

Iberian Extreme

"In the event of a three-degree warming, we assume there will be 5.6 drought months per year; up to now, the number has been 2.1 months. For some parts of the Iberian peninsula, we project that the drought could even last more than seven months," said Luis Samaniego, of the UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.

His co-author Stephan Thober added: "A three-degree temperature rise also means that the water content in the soil would decline by 35 millimetres up to a depth of two metres. In other words, 35,000 cubic metres of water will no longer be available per square kilometre of land."

The two scientists, with colleagues from the UK, the U.S., the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, report in Nature Climate Change that they used mathematical models to simulate the effect of temperature rise as a response to ever-greater global emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, from the combustion of fossil fuels.

The 35mm loss of water was roughly what parts of Europe experienced during the unprecedented drought of 2003. If planetary temperatures do rise by 3°C, then such episodes could become the normal state in many parts of Europe, and far worse could be on the way.

Once again, none of this will come as a shock to other climate scientists, who have repeatedly warned that the cost of not confronting the menace of climate change could be huge in terms of lives lost, forests burned and harvests ruined.

Europe's cities could become uncomfortably and even potentially lethally hot, and the southern nations of the Mediterranean could face devastating heat and drought.

But such droughts are not inevitable, nor likely across the whole of Europe. The Baltic states and Scandinavia could experience higher rainfall in a warmer world. The same simulations found that—were the world to achieve the 1.5°C global warming limit which 195 nations agreed upon at the Paris climate summit in 2015—then the Mediterranean region would experience only 3.2 months of drought. And water loss in the top two meters would be only about 8 millimeters.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Bumblebees flying and pollinating a creeping thyme flower. emeliemaria / iStock / Getty Images

It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of icebergs on Arctic Ocean in Greenland. Explora_2005 / iStock / Getty Images

The annual Arctic thaw has kicked off with record-setting ice melt and sea ice loss that is several weeks ahead of schedule, scientists said, as the New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sled dog teams pull researchers from the Danish Meteorological Institute through meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet in early June, 2019. Danish Meteorological Institute / Steffen M. Olsen

By Jon Queally

In yet the latest shocking image depicting just how fast the world's natural systems are changing due to the global climate emergency, a photograph showing a vast expanse of melted Arctic ice in Greenland — one in which a pair of sled dog teams appear to be walking on water — has gone viral.

Read More Show Less
CAFOs often store animal waste in massive, open-air lagoons, like this one at Vanguard Farms in Chocowinity, North Carolina. Bacteria feeding on the animal waste turns the mixture a bright pink. picstever / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tia Schwab

It has been almost a year since Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas, dumping a record 30 inches of rainfall in some parts of the states. At least 52 people died, and property and economic losses reached $24 billion, with nearly $17 billion in North Carolina alone. Flood waters also killed an estimated 3.5 million chickens and 5,500 hogs.

Read More Show Less
Members of the NY Renews coalition gathered before New York lawmakers reached a deal on the Climate and Communities Protection Act. NYRenews / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Grassroots climate campaigners in New York applauded on Monday after state lawmakers reached a deal on sweeping climate legislation, paving the way for the passage of what could be some of the country's most ambitious environmental reforms.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
In this picture taken on June 4, an Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, on the eve of World Environment Day. Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Nearly 50 people died on Saturday in one Indian state as record-breaking heatwaves across the country have caused an increasingly desperate situation.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a poster in New York City during the second annual nationwide March For Science on April 14, 2018. Kena Betancur / Getty Images

By Will J. Grant

In an ideal world, people would look at issues with a clear focus only on the facts. But in the real world, we know that doesn't happen often.

People often look at issues through the prism of their own particular political identity — and have probably always done so.

Read More Show Less

YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

In a blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court ruled Monday to uphold a Virginia ban on mining uranium, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less