climate change

Study warns Europe facing worst droughts in 500 years

Underwater rocks emerged from the water of Lake Garda after northern Italy experienced the worst drought in 70 years. Photo credit: Reuters / Flavio Lo Scalzo.

By Anders Lorenzen

Heatwave after heatwave, ongoing hot spells and drought in several European countries simultaneously have characterised the summer across much of the European continent.

A study published last month when the European temperature was peaking, now predicts Europe is facing its worst drought in 500 years  It reported that two-thirds of the continent is either in a state of drought or on alert.

The report was conducted by the European Drought Observation (EDO) with support from the European Commission (EC). It reported that 47% of Europe has been warned to expect severe shortages of water.

Severe droughts

The report further outlined that as of early August the severe droughts impacting many European regions since the beginning of the year have been getting worse. It added that the western Europe-Mediterranean region was likely to experience warmer and drier than normal conditions until November.

Data indicates that this current drought appears to be the worst in at least 500 years, this however assumes that the final data at the end of the season confirms the preliminary assessment.

The impacts of the extreme heat and drought include worsening 2022 yields for grain maize – predicted to be 16% below the average. Soybean and sunflower yields are also currently looking to be respectively 15% and 12% below average. The shortage of water has meant a hit to hydropower generation, and the low water levels have impacted inland shipping. Of course, the full infrastructure, societal and health impacts of this are not yet fully known.

EDO says that the rainfall experienced in mid-August has created some relief, but in some cases, the extreme weather with heavy downpours, cloud bursts and thunderstorms has caused further damage.

 The drought indicator used by the EDO is derived from measurements of precipitation, soil moisture and the fraction of solar radiation absorbed by plants for photosynthesis.

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