Europe Braced for Drought As Experts Warn Water Supplies Are Drying Up

3 mins

Europe faces drought as global warming exacerbates heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and snow-free ski slopes

Europe faces widespread serious drought as groundwater reserves dry up due to global warming, say scientists who point to threats to wildlife, agriculture and energy supplies. 

Hotter summers mean there has been a huge drop in surface water levels since 2018 and last year’s heatwaves meant supplies deteriorated even further, while also causing wildfires to ravage across the continent.

From June to August 2022, persistent heatwaves affected parts of Europe, causing evacuations and at least 26,000 heat-related deaths, making this the deadliest meteorological events in 2022.

The highest temperature recorded was 47C in Pinhão, Portugal, on 14 July.

wildfire ravages  forest around a town in Europe
Heatwaves saw wildfires ravage parts of Europe last year

In June 2022, temperatures of 40–43C were recorded in parts of Europe, with most severe temperature anomalies in France. The UK saw it’s hottest year ever with the mercury topping 40C, the following month.

Related Story UK Sees Record Temperatures as Scientist Says: ‘Man-Made Climate Change – it’s Here.’

In July London’s firefighters recorded their busiest day since the Nazi blitz of the city in World War II with 41 properties destroyed by fires in a single day.

Rivers and lakes were badly hit with the source of the UK’s River Thames drying up, and Italy’s Po River Valley, which produces 40 per cent of the country’s food supply, suffering its worst drought in 70 years.

The continent’s energy shortage also worsened, as without sufficient amounts of cooling water, nuclear power plants in countries such as France struggled to generate enough electricity. Hydro-electric power supplies in Switzerland were also badly hit.

‘A few years ago, I would never have imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe.’

Dr Torsten Mayer-Gürr, Graz University of Technology, Austria,

Europe Water Shortages

In Germany, water levels fell to below 40cm in August 2022 along a key route for transporting commodities in the Rhine River, setting a new low. Meanwhile more than 100 municipalities in France were short on drinking water as the country battled its worst drought on record.

Dr Torsten Mayer-Gürr, a professor at Graz University of Technology, Austria, and the author of the research, said: ‘A few years ago, I would never have imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe.’

Rhine with low water in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in the hot and dry summer of 2018
Rhine with low water in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley

The research is part of a bigger project by the European Union to assess groundwater resources and develop sustainable water management plans, as dry riverbeds and the disappearance of stagnant waters severely impact both nature and people.

The new data on water supplies was gathered using satellite gravimetry, a specialised method of measuring the world’s groundwater resources and documenting their changes. The science uses twin satellites called Tom and Jerry that orbit the Earth each month in a polar orbit at an altitude of 490 kilometres.

They provide readings of the total mass, from which the changes in the rivers and lakes are then subtracted, the soil moisture, snow and ice are also subtracted and finally only the groundwater remains.

The results indicate that water scarcity in Europe is something that needs to be considered.

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