of global warming vary. In the best case, if we reduce emissions and
the natural capacity of the earth copes with the increase in greenhouse
gases, the earth's temperature might rise 1°C by the year 2100; in the
worst case, the rise could be 3.5°C.
This might not sound dramatic, but we know from studies of how the earth's
climate has changed in the past that this is actually very fast. And
the effects of any increase could be serious worldwide. Not all regions
would experience the same type of change. Some might become much hotter
and turn into deserts while others - probably northern Europe - could
get very cold.
major European research goal is to improve models that predict how global
environmental change will affect different parts of the world. Every
possible avenue is being explored. Researchers are examining ice and
sediment cores to find out how the earth's climate changed in the past.
Cores from the centuries that followed the last ice age are giving us
some important clues about the potential effects of global warming.
Studying ocean circulation patterns is also important. We need to know
more about natural variations before we can predict how human activity
might change the global environment.
Many projects are looking at the effect that climate changes might have
on Europe's water resources. European scientists are trying to predict
the extent to which global warming might reduce groundwater supplies,
so that the EU can develop policies to help vulnerable areas to cope.
At a local level, many projects are monitoring coastal areas that could
be affected by a rise in sea level or an increase in the frequency of
severe storms. Researchers are also studying the processes of erosion
and desertification to find out how these might be slowed down. But
for all these efforts to be useful, there needs first to be systematic
observation of the critical parameters of global change, and their appropriate
use in models.
Preventing Mediterranean desertification
The MEDALUS projects have analysed how to prevent the complex combination
of factors that lead to desertification, such as deforestation, changes
in land uses and urbanisation, as well as their serious consequences
for the Mediterranean basin, such as reduction of water resources,
violent floods, and landslides.
Lessons from climate history
Comparing the various climate changes in the earth's past is necessary
in order to predict the consequences of current global warming. The
EPICA project studied ice cores from Antarctica that have provided valuable
data covering the last 500000 years. Scientists from CLIVAMP are looking
at sediment cores taken from the Mediterranean that explain how circulation
patterns have fluctuated over time.
Modelling future regional weather
Based on their observations, researchers are building ever more reliable
models to show what changes in climate could mean for the various regions
of Europe. Lower rainfall in the Central European plains would mean
the Ukraine, for example, could have difficulty irrigating crops. Alpine
countries, such as Switzerland, could see a decline in tourism as many
ski resorts may lack reliable snowfall. Other areas will become more
prone to flooding. Dependable predictions are essential to the preparation
of policies for coping with future problems.
The risks of rising sea levels
Computer models are also being used to predict the risk of rises in
sea levels in different parts of the world. European scientists predict
a rise in sea levels of between 15 cm and 95 cm by 2100; even 15 cm
would have devastating effects on many coastal areas.