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European droughts in 2018: a warning of things to come

  • European droughts in 2018: warning of things to come
    Droughts similar to those of 2018 could become common as early as 2043.

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European Commission
The European Commission is the EU's executive arm. It takes decisions on the Union's political and strategic direction.

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A recent JRC article warns that the extreme drought conditions that affected central and northern Europe's 2018 spring/summer growing season could become the norm within 25 years, and calls for innovative adaptation measures to deal with extremes.

The 2018 spring and summer months were marked by a unique combination of drought conditions in central and northern Europe, and unusually wet conditions in southern Europe.

For instance, Germany was affected by a 6-month drought which lasted the whole spring and summer, while the spring was particularly wet in the Iberian Peninsula.

Both extremes affected crop yields. The droughts resulted into total reductions in the main crop yields of up to 50%.

This was partially offset by southern Europe's yield gains of up to 34%.

This juxtaposition of opposite climate anomalies  – droughts in the Northern part of Europe and unusually wet condition in the South, sometimes referred to as the "water seesaw" – was  a unique phenomenon of the last 500 years.

 Future climate projections, based on high resolution global models, show that southern Europe is less likely to experience such favourably wet conditions for crop growth in the future.

On the other hand, droughts similar to those of 2018 could become common as early as 2043.

Urgent need for innovative drought adaptation strategies

Innovative adaptation strategies for European agriculture are therefore urgently needed to cope with recurrent drought events that are unlikely to benefit from the unusual "water seesaw" pattern seen last year.

According to JRC scientist Andrea Toreti, "projections show that the climate is getting hotter and more extremes are going to occur. Last year, Europe got lucky with the unusually wet conditions in southern Europe that mitigated the drought effects on the overall food production."

"However, we can't count on such anomalies to ensure food security in the future. Last year was a wake-up call. There is an urgent need to scientifically improve risk and impact assessment by considering these recurrent/concurrent events, the shocks they can cause and thus design new adaptation strategies to cope with them."

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