Climate change: Will southern Spain become a desert?

Starting at two degrees warming, drastic changes in the Mediterranean region are threatening

There are still evergreen forests and bush landscapes on the Mediterranean Sea - like here at Cap Formentor on Mallorca © Daniel Pavon / IMBE, Université Aix Marseille
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Bad prospects: If climate change continues as it has been, southern Spain could become a desert at the end of the century. This is predicted by climate researchers based on climate and vegetation data. Thus, even a mere two degrees of warming could drastically alter Mediterranean vegetation and ecosystems. This could only be prevented if climate change limits to 1.5 degrees - which seems rather unrealistic.

The regions around the Mediterranean were once the cradle of great civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Minoans, Greeks and Phoenicians to the Romans. But always this region was also particularly susceptible to changes in the climate. Climate change brought down several high cultures in the Bronze Age and could have ushered in the end of antiquity.

Great change

Similarly serious changes now predict Joel Guiot and Wolfgang Cramer of the French research organization CNRS ahead for the near future. If climate change continues as it has done so far, landscapes and ecosystems around the Mediterranean could change as dramatically as ever since the last ice age, according to their forecast.

For their study, the researchers studied the development of plant life in the Mediterranean region of the last approximately 10, 000 years. Using pollen finds in sediment cores, they reconstructed how the vegetation changed in response to the climate. They then used this data as a basis to simulate the future development under different climate change scenarios.

Status quo only at 1.5 degrees

The result: a serious change in the Mediterranean landscape can probably only be prevented if the climate protection goals of the Paris Agreement are respected. Only if the warming was limited to 1.5 degrees would the climate and flora of the Mediterranean neighbors remain largely as they are today - including existing drought and forest fire problems. display

Sand, lichens and dry-resistant herbs: Will the Mediterranean be looking like this soon? Here is a Mediterranean ecosystem on the French Isle de Porquerolles. Cr Wolfgang Cramer / IMBE / CNRS

D ster, on the other hand, sees warming above 1.5 degrees - which is extremely likely, given the 1.3 degrees already reached in the Mediterranean. Even at two degrees warming, the landscapes would resemble the state of about 4, 700 years ago. At that time there were fewer forests in the southern part of the Mediterranean than today, and the barren landscapes of North Africa were even more similar.

South Spain as desert

Even the provisional national commitments that states have made prior to the Paris Agreement are not enough to avert major changes. "This would probably lead to a substantial expansion of the desert in a large part of southern Europe and North Africa", so the prognosis of the scientists.

An extreme change threatens, however, when climate change progresses almost unchecked as it does today. "The entire south of Spain would then become a desert, " report Guiot and Cramer. "In a large part of the Mediterranean, evergreen forests would be replaced by Mediterranean dry vegetation." If nothing is done to combat climate change, then this would be the Mediterranean ecosystems change in a way they are unequaled ten thousand years ago.

Although the two researchers have not included an important factor - the changes in human land use - other scientists also consider the forecasts to be realistic:

"There have already been estimates of climate impacts. These also said that the desert and steppe could expand under intense climate change, as in Scenario RCP8.5, in the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlas Mountains, "commented Kirsten Thonicke of the Potsdam Institute f Klimr climate impact research. (Science, 2016; doi: 10.1126 / science.aah5015)

(American Association for the Advancement of Science, 31.10.2016 - NPO)