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New study predicts severe and prolonged droughts in Europe

Large sections of Europe will have to adjust to severe and prolonged periods of draught as well as to declining water levels in rivers.

This is the result of a recently concluded study in which a research group from Kassel University also participated. Climate change is just one of the causes for these developments. The implications are far-reaching – from agriculture to the operation of nuclear power plants.

Water will become increasingly scarce particularly in Southern Europe in the course of the 21st century according to the analysis presented in the study. Streamflow discharges will decrease significantly not only in Spain, Portugal and Italy, but also in southern France and in the Balkans – in some regions as much as 40%.

The study, which has just been published in the journal “Hydrology and Earth System Sciences”, predicts more pronounced periods of drought with up to 80% higher deficits in streamflow. Even regions where other studies have predicted increased precipitation due to climate change may suffer from hydrological droughts and falling water levels due to increases in water consumption, which have also been considered in the present study. Large sections of Germany are included in these regions.

“In many scenarios regarding water availability, attention is only given to the effects of climate change,” explains Dr. Martina Flörke, leader of the research group “Global and Regional Dynamics – Water” at the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR) at Kassel University. “But there are other factors that can have a comparable effect and exacerbate water scarcity, such as population growth or increases in water consumption.”

For this reason, the group's scenario includes data and prognoses regarding climate change together with predictions about water consumption throughout Europe. In addition to Flörke, the Kassel scientist Florian Wimmer and other researchers from the Institute for Environment and Sustainability in Ispra, Italy, were involved.

The scenario that has been developed by the scientists extends to the end of the 21st century. In developing it, they made use of data from previous studies. Regarding climate change, the authors have taken a middle approach using a figure of 3.4 degrees increase in average global temperature. Regarding the question of water consumption, they are more pessimistic and have included assumptions of a drastic increase in water use.

“In politics, in business and generally in the society in the countries of Europe, strategies to cope with growing water scarcity must be developed,” explains Flörke. “This of course directly affects the agricultural sector and the general water supply for the population, but also areas such as river-based transport and power plants that are cooled with river water must be considered.” In the past 20 years, costs attributable to drought in Europe amounted to €6.2 billion per year, according to the study. These costs could very well rise in the future.

Link to the study:
Dr.-Ing Martina Flörke
Universität Kassel
Center for Environmental Systems Research
Tel.: +49 561 804-6120

Sebastian Mense | idw
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