October 3, 2022

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Drought, Europe |  The drought in Europe may be the worst in 500 years

Drought, Europe | The drought in Europe may be the worst in 500 years

Where the River Teal once flowed fresh through the village of Lux in French Burgundy, there is now only a wide, dusty moat with thousands of dead fish among the rows of trees in the village.

From the dry reservoirs of Spain to the increasingly low water levels of rivers such as the Danube, Rhine and Po, prolonged drought in Europe leads to problems with agriculture, restrictions on water use, extensive forest fires, problems with river transportation and the certain death of fish and birds.

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There were no heavy rains for two months in western and southern parts of Europe and central Europe, from Poland to Portugal. In England, where it usually rains heavily, summer is the hottest and driest in living memory, and drought has been declared in the south and west.

Climate change

And there is no chance that the drought will end. Experts, among others at the European Commission Research Center EC-JRC, have Clear It may be the most extreme in 500 years.

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The vast majority of scientists no longer have any doubt that the series of unstoppable heat waves and prolonged drought is due in part to climate change, which is now occurring faster than many expected.

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Climate change is exacerbating conditions as higher temperatures increase evaporation, thirsty plants attract more moisture, and less snow in winter reduces the water needed for irrigation in agriculture and gardens.

And it is not only Europe that is affected by the lack of rainfall. Eastern Africa, western United States and northern Mexico are currently experiencing severe drought. The Horn of Africa is on the brink of a hunger crisis after four consecutive rainy seasons failed.

dead fish on dry land

While strolling the 15-meter-wide dry bottom of the Luxe river, Jean-Philippe Quasni captures the species of fish that have died in the Thiel River. He is the chief technician of the local river environment protection organization.

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– It’s heartbreaking. On average, 8000 liters of water flows here per second. Now it’s zero, he says.

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Without rain, he says, rivers will continue to empty, and since the oxygen level drops without a fresh water supply, all fish will eventually die, including those now saving their lives in natural ponds above or below.

– These are the types of fish that will gradually disappear, he says.

half the continent

The European Commission’s think tank EC-JRC warned this week that drought is about to get worse and could eventually affect 47 percent of the European continent.

Andrea Torretti, chief scientist at the European Drought Observatory, says the drought in 2018 was so severe that there was nothing like it 500 years ago. But what is happening now appears to be worse.

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In the next three months, Tourette says, there will be a very high risk of drought conditions across western and central Europe, as well as in Great Britain.

Climate change and weather

Current conditions are due to long periods of dry weather, which have their origins in changing global weather systems, says meteorologist Peter Hoffmann at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Berlin.

– In the summer we notice it more than others. But he says it’s accumulated over the course of the year.

Climate change has reduced temperature differences between regions, and this has weakened the forces that drive the so-called jet stream, which typically carries wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean over Europe.

A weak or unstable jet stream can bring warmer air from North Africa into Europe, resulting in longer periods of heat. The opposite can also happen, when cold air from the North Pole leads to lower temperatures in the far south.

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What has been observed in recent years, Hoffman says, is in the upper range of what has been predicted in current climate models.

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threatening river transport

Drought has forced some countries in Europe to reduce water use, and river transport on the Rhine and Danube is now threatened.

The water level of the Rhine is expected to reach a very low level in the coming days, and it may become difficult for ships and barges to sail through Kaup, halfway between Koblenz and Mainz. The water level there was 32 centimeters on Monday, 5 centimeters lower than the day before. At lower water levels, ships could carry less cargo, and at some point transportation had to be stopped completely and moved to roads and railways.

In Serbia, authorities began dredging the Danube to keep waterways open, and in Hungary, Lake Velence near Budapest turned into patches of dry mud.

sunken boats appear

The long stretches of the Italian Po River are so water-poor that barges and boats that sank years ago are resurfacing. At Lake Garda, the water level has reached an all-time low, and tourists who flock from Milan find dry beaches of yellow rock. Some water has been released to contribute to irrigation, but efforts to save the lucrative tourist season have stalled.

The drought also severely affected the United Kingdom. July hasn’t been the driest month there since 1935, according to meteorologists. The lack of precipitation reduced water levels in reservoirs, rivers, and groundwater. A ban on watering lawns has been imposed in large parts of the country, and now it’s London’s turn too.

Winter fodder must be used

British farmers ran out of water for irrigation and had to use winter fodder for their animals due to a lack of fresh grass. Underground rivers are drying up, endangering fish and bird life.

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Even in countries like Spain and Portugal, which are accustomed to long periods without rain, people suffer dire consequences. In Andalusia, farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of avocado trees to save others from wilting as the Vinuela reservoir has fallen to 13 percent of its natural capacity.

In the natural green-brown region of Burgundy, where the sources of the Seine are, the grass turns yellowish-brown, and tractors raise large clouds of dust from dry fields. Dairy farmer Baptiste Colon in the village of Molloy says he has to use winter fodder to keep the cows alive, and that the quality of the milk is lower.

Maize production in Europe is now expected to be 12.5 million tons less than normal, while sunflower production will be 1.6 million tons lower than usual.

Record number of fires

Extremely dry conditions have also contributed to record areas of Europe being burned by forest and bush fires, from Germany to Greece and Portugal. Nearly 660,000 hectares have been reduced to ash, the largest area since this type of logging began in 2006, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

It’s particularly bad in the southwest of the continent, where wildfire records have been recorded in France, Spain and Portugal, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate monitoring service.

In Zaragoza, 1,500 people were evacuated from a major fire at the weekend, and when the fire brigades began to control that fire, a new and dangerous fire broke out north of Benidorm. In Spain, more than 260 thousand hectares have burned in 43 major fires.

(© NTB)