Are we going to run out of water soon?

Study predicts heavier and longer-lasting droughts in Europe

Dry Riverbed in Northern England © Catherine Moody, EGU
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For us in Europe, especially in the north, which was rainy from storms, the idea of ​​a drought has hitherto been far away. But that could soon change: large parts of Europe will have to adjust to heavier and longer-lasting droughts and falling river levels in the coming decades. This is the result of a European study that also looked at the causes and consequences of the threat of drought.

Droughts are natural disasters with a serious impact on the economy and the environment. Not only the desert regions of the world are affected by it - in Europe, too, the partly devastating dry periods become more frequent. In the past twenty years, the economic costs have increased due to drought damage to 6.2 billion euros per year. The dry and hot summer of 2003 alone in southern and central Europe caused damage amounting to 8.7 billion euros. And these costs will continue to rise in the future.

Rising temperatures and higher water consumption

The new study has examined whether and where there is a particular drought risk in future in Europe due to rising temperatures and higher water consumption. To this end, scientists from the European Joint Research Center (JRC) and climate researchers from the University of Kassel have combined various scenarios of climate change and water consumption. From this they created a model that reflects the distribution and flow of water on earth. Using this model, they then calculated the drought risk based on the water level of all river courses in Europe until the year 2100. The results are explained by the researchers in the OpenAccess online magazine "Hydrology and Earth System Sciences".

The climatologists used their calculations to predict a rise in the global average temperature of up to 3.4 degrees Celsius. Due to the rising temperature, more water evaporates from soils and open water surfaces. Southern Europe, where it could even get warmer by up to 5 degrees, is particularly affected:

"Our research shows that climate change could cause many river basins, especially in the south of Europe, to experience more frequent periods of reduced water flow, " says first author Giovanni Forzieri of the JRC. The water levels of the southern European rivers could fall by up to 40 percent. On the Iberian peninsula, in southern France and Italy, as well as in the Balkans, the frequency of periods of drought could increase by 80 percent. display

Sustainable water management required

However, global warming is not the only cause of dwindling water supplies: a growing population and higher demand for irrigation in agriculture and for industry are increasing water use. As a result, the available reserves continue to decline. In Central, Western and Southern Europe, the risk of danger increases by another 10 to 30 percent.

On the basis of these results, the scientists demand immediate measures to minimize the negative impact of the threatening droughts on the economy and the environment. Particularly important is "a sustainable water management, which can adapt to the possible changes, " emphasizes Forzieri.

(HESS, 2014; doi: 10.5194 / hess-18-85-2014)

(European Geosciences Union, 15.01.2014 - AKR)