Drought across Europe is drying up rivers, killing fish and shrinking crops: NPR

A view of a dry lake bed near the village of Konoplja, 150 kilometers northwest of Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, August 9, 2022.

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A view of a dry lake bed near the village of Konoplja, 150 kilometers northwest of Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, August 9, 2022.

Darko Vojinovich/AP

Luxe, France – Once upon a time, a river flowed through it. Now, white dust and thousands of dead fish cover the wide gulf of winds between rows of trees in the Burgundy region of France, which used to be the Till River in the village of Lux.

An unprecedented drought is affecting nearly half of the European continent, from dry and broken water bodies in Spain to falling water levels in major arteries like the Danube, the Rhine and the Po. It is harming agricultural economies, forcing water restrictions, causing wildfires and threatening aquatic species.

In Western, Central and Southern Europe, there has been no significant rain for nearly two months. And the drought period is expected to continue, experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.

Climate change Warmer temperatures accelerate evaporation, thirsty plants take up more moisture and reduce snowfall in winter, limiting the supply of fresh water available for irrigation in summer. Europe is not alone in the crisis, with droughts in eastern Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico also reported.

As he walked along the 15-metre-wide (50-foot-wide) riverbed in Lux, Jean-Philippe Cousne, chief technician of the local Federation for Fishing and Protection of the Aquatic Environment, cataloged the fish species, who had died. Till.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “On average, about 8,000 liters (about 2,100 gallons) are flowing per second. … and now, zero liters.”

Upstream in some areas, some trout and other freshwater species are able to take shelter in pools via fish ladders. But such systems are not available everywhere.

Without rain, the river “would be empty. And yes, all the fish would die. … They’re stuck up and down, there’s no water coming in, so the oxygen level will continue to decrease because of the amount of (water)” Will go down,” Kausen said. “These are species that will gradually disappear.”

The federation’s regional head, Jean-Pierre Sonvico, said diverting the fish to other rivers would not help as they also affect waterways, leading to overcrowding and more deaths.

“Yeah, it’s dramatic because what can we do? Nothing,” he said. “We’re waiting, expecting a storm with rain, but storms are very localized so we can’t count on that.”

Farmer, Baptiste Colson, holds a clod of dry earth and hay as he stands in a sunny field on Wednesday August 10, 2022 in Molloy, France.

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Farmer, Baptiste Colson, holds a clod of dry earth and hay as he stands in a sunny field on Wednesday August 10, 2022 in Molloy, France.

Nicolas Garriga/AP

The European Commission’s Joint Research Center warned this week that drought conditions would worsen and potentially affect 47% of the continent.

Andrea Toretti, a senior researcher at the European Drought Observatory, said the drought in 2018 was so extreme that there had been no such event for the past 500 years, “but this year, I think, it’s really worse.”

For the next three months, “we still see a very high risk of dry conditions in Western and Central Europe as well as the UK,” Toretti said.

Peter Hoffmann, a meteorologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research near Berlin, said the current situation is the result of a prolonged dry season caused by changes in world weather systems.

“It’s just that in the summer we feel it the most,” he said. “But really drought persists year-round.”

Climate change has reduced temperature differences between regions, the forces driving the jet stream that typically brings wet Atlantic weather to Europe, he said.

A weak or unstable jet stream can result in unusually warm air coming from North Africa into Europe, leading to prolonged heatwaves. The opposite is also true, when a polar vortex of cold air from the Arctic can produce freezing conditions, where it normally reaches south.

Hoffman said all observations in recent years are on the upper end of what current climate models predict.

Drought has caused some European countries to ban the use of the water, and shipping on the Rhine and Danube is at risk.

The Rhine is expected to reach critically low levels in the coming days, making it difficult to transport goods, including coal and gasoline. On the Danube, Serbian authorities have begun removing sand to deepen the waterway and keep ships running smoothly.

In neighboring Hungary, wide stretches of the popular Lake Valence, near Budapest, have turned into patches of dry mud, among small boats. Aeration and water circulation devices have been installed to protect the wildlife, but the water quality has become so bad that swimming was banned on a beach over the weekend.

Parts of the Po, Italy’s longest river, are so small that ships and boats that sunk decades ago are resurfacing.

Drought has also affected southern England, which received only 10% of its average rainfall in July. Firefighters are battling an unprecedented number of grass fires and many areas have banned people from watering their lawns.

A swan looks for water in the dry bed of Lake Valence in Valence, Hungary, Thursday, August 11, 2022.

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A swan looks for water in the dry bed of Lake Valence in Valence, Hungary, Thursday, August 11, 2022.

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The River Trust charity said England’s chalk currents – which allow underground springs to bubble through the spongy layer of rock – are drying up, endangering aquatic wildlife such as kingfishers and trout.

Even in countries like Spain and Portugal, which are accustomed to long periods without rain, this has had major consequences. In the Spanish region of Andalusia, some avocado farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to save others from wilting as the Vinuela reservoir in the province of Málaga has fallen to only 13% of capacity, down 55% from a year earlier. Is.

Some European farmers are using tap water for their livestock in areas where ponds and streams have dried up, using 100 liters (26 gallons) per day per cow.

In a typically green burgundy, to the source of the Seine River in Paris, the grass has turned yellowish-brown and tractors churn out huge clouds of dust.

Baptiste Colson, who owns dairy cows and grows fodder crops in the village of Moloy, said their animals are suffering in drought, with the quality and quantity of milk declining.

The 31-year-old head of the local Genus Agriculturers (Young Farmers) Association said they have been forced to dip into their winter supply of fodder in August.

“That’s the biggest concern,” Colson said.

According to a report by S&P Global Commodity Insights, EU corn production is expected to drop by 12.5 million tonnes from last year and sunflower production is projected to be down 1.6 million tonnes.

Colson expects corn yields to drop by at least 30%, which poses a major problem for feeding his cows.

“We know that we have to buy food … so that the cows can continue to produce milk,” he said. “From an economic point of view, the cost will be higher.”

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