What consequences will climate change have for Europe?

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The summer of 2015 in Germany saw the highest temperatures and driest conditions for 50 years. Here are a few facts to illustrate this:

  • In some parts of southern Germany, the earth dried out to such an extent that corn plants did not produce any fruit.
  • Shipping was suspended at times due to insufficient water levels in rivers.
  • In some places there was even a shortage of drinking water.

People in Central Europe will also have to get used to prolonged dry spells in future – just one consequence of climate change.

Experts expect to see increasing dry spells in Europe
Experts expect to see increasing dry spells in Europe as a result of climate change.

Better prepared for drought

“We have plenty of experience of flooding in Germany, but are not so used to assessing the risks posed by dry spells and managing their consequences”, says Dr Kerstin Stahl. A hydrologist from the University of Freiburg, she hopes to remedy this through a research network named “Drought impacts, processes and resilience: making the invisible visible” (DRIeR). A solution is to be developed on an interdisciplinary basis. Together with environmental and legal experts from her university and from the University of Heidelberg, she is analysing the areas in which improvements are needed on a political and administrative level. “For example, laws could already be passed now to restrict the use of water from rivers and streams during dry spells”, says Stahl, “but it is often unclear whether this should be done by local government representatives or the water authorities.” The researchers hope to learn from places like Spain and California, which have more experience in dealing with periods of drought.

More data for better forecasts

There is still a lack of data in Germany. “We want to find out which measurements should be carried out so that dry spells and their consequences can be better forecast”, says the hydrology expert. She explains that river, lake and groundwater levels are regularly measured in Germany, yet there is still no systematic recording of soil moisture levels, which are also an important indicator.

Cooperation via the Internet

Ultimately, the findings will be made available on an online platform, which will allow those affected – local residents, farmers, business managers and local government or official representatives – to learn about the risks and consequences of dry spellsand also to coordinate their cooperation. “We additionally plan to develop a governance model”, announces Kerstin Stahl. This will answer important questions such as the following:

  • Who has which information?
  • How is this information made accessible?
  • Who has to take which decisions when?

Regional, but universal nonetheless

The research project is restricted to the state of Baden-Württemberg in the southwest of Germany. In the water expert’s view, this regional focus offers some important advantages: “We want to take many levels and details into account – from legal aspects and agricultural concerns to ecological issues”, says Stahl. “This gives rise to a degree of complexity that would not have been feasible at national or European level.” The governance model for the management of dry spells is ultimately to be designed so that it can also be applied to other regions.

DRIeR

What are the social and economic consequences of periods of drought? What can be done at the political level to help ensure a sustainable supply of water? And how can reservoirs be made efficient in the long term? The project “Drought impacts, processes and resilience: making the invisible visible” (DRIeR) is searching for answers to these and other questions, and is being coordinated by the University of Freiburg. 

www.hydro.uni-freiburg.de