EU Science Hub

European droughts set to become more prevalent by the end of the century

Drought events are encroaching into new areas of Europe, and their impacts are likely to become even more severe in the future.
©Fotolia, author: Abuelo Ramiro
Apr 01 2016

A recently published JRC report investigates the trends and impacts of past and future meteorological drought events in Europe, and the implications of a projected drier future for southern Europe and a wetter future for northern Europe.

Meteorological drought events result from a prolonged deficiency of precipitation. If persistent, they can lead to decreased agricultural production, forest fires, inadequate public water supplies, reduced energy production, and even permanent land degradation and desertification. Their impacts are difficult to assess as they affect extended areas and can take months or even years to develop.

Recent damages caused by droughts in Europe were estimated at over €100 billion. Of the 21 major droughts that hit Europe from 1950 to 2012, six occurred after 2000. While water shortage has historically been common in southern European countries, almost the whole of Europe has been repeatedly affected by drought in the past 30 years, and especially in the past decade.

The objective of the report is to provide decision makers with comprehensive information on meteorological drought hotspots and trends for better managing drought challenges in the future. It describes the construction of the first ever database of European meteorological drought events that occurred from 1950 to 2012, classified by country and region according to their duration, severity, intensity, peak and area involved. It also develops a dataset of drought impacts based on damage functions that correlate the severity of the drought events with the impacts, which it tested on two sectors: cereal production and hydropower generation.

Global warming will be a key factor regarding the more extreme impacts of drought in Europe, particularly in the last decades of the 21st century. Future drought events are likely to be more frequent, longer, and more severe and intense in most of southern Europe, while increased precipitation in northern Europe is likely to lead to a reduction in the frequency, duration, severity and intensity of drought events. Results suggest that cereal yields and hydropower production are likely to be more often and more severely impacted in southern Europe, and less frequently and severely in northern Europe.

The new database of past European drought events can be used as the basis for studying their impacts in different sectors and to project the potential impacts of future events.  It is planned to apply the new methodologies to drought trends on a seasonal basis, different climate scenarios and other sectors of the economy.


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