Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, which is already evident. In Europe, too, summers are expected to become even hotter in the coming years and decades, while less and fewer rainfalls.
A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Water shows: The continent is heading for a future of more severe to extreme droughts.
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“Summer drought is a highly relevant issue in Europe,” said Magdalena Mittermeier from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, one of the lead authors of the study. “We find a clear trend towards more, longer and more intense summer droughts in terms of a precipitation deficit towards the end of the century.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), droughts are already the biggest threat to crops and livestock in all parts of the world. Worldwide, an estimated 55 million people are affected – every year.
The core findings of the new study can be summarised as follows: The frequency and intensity of summer droughts will increase in Europe. The differences between winter and summer precipitation will increase – precipitation amounts will increase in winter and decrease in summer.
And several regions will be particularly affected by droughts – four so-called “hotspots”, as the study puts it: France, the Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Alps. Here, the frequency of extreme summer drought could increase by more than 50 percent.
The risk for Central Europe increases by 25 percent
“Our study shows that unchecked climate change will drastically increase the risk of droughts in crisis areas,” Mittermeier said. “But even in some regions where droughts currently play a minor role, the future drought risk is expected to become severe” – such as in the Alps.
Across Central Europe, extreme summer droughts could become 25 percent more frequent by 2100. The duration of dry periods will also increase. Only Scandinavia is not expected to experience a significant increase in droughts for the time being.
Droughts are divided into different categories according to their impact: meteorological, hydrological – i.e. affecting the water supply, agricultural or socio-economic droughts. Meteorological droughts are particularly important for research because they can be possible precursors of other types of drought. That means, for example: When too little rain falls, farmers have less water available. Crops dry up, which in turn results in declining income for farmers.
The scientists involved in the study call for better, effective climate protection to mitigate the drastic effects of global warming. “Consistent mitigation of climate change as agreed in the Paris Agreement” is of great importance, they say.