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The dangers of change

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Graphic elementThe facts

The dangers of changePredictions 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 1C by the year 2100; in the worst case, the rise could be 3.5C.
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.

Graphic elementAction

The dangers of changeA 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.

The dangers of change

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 dangers of change

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.

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