Global warming threatens drought for Mediterranean

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The Mediterranean region is the most vulnerable in Europe to climate change because of its sensitivity to drought and rising temperatures, a study has found.

Countries bordering the Mediterranean will suffer an increased risk of severe water shortages, forest fires, lost of agricultural land and an influx of potentially invasive species from the south. The economy and landscape of the Alpine regions are also vulnerable to increased temperatures because a warmer climate will cause the mountain snow lines to rise, the study found.

International researchers led by Dagmar Schroeter of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany said Europe would experience large changes as a result of climate change in the 21st century.

"Nature reserve managers will have to cope with substantial changes in the abundance and distribution of plant and animal species," Dr Schroeter said. "Mountain and Mediterranean species are sensitive, and we observe changes already."

The study, published by the online version of the journal Science, tried to assess the wider impacts of climate change on a range of ecosystems that provide vital services for society, such as forestry, farming or tourism. "The Mediterranean appeared most vulnerable to global change," the scientists say.

The study, which included input from 58 "stakeholders" working in government, industry, farming, and charities, covered 14 pre-2004 EU member states, plus Norway and Switzerland.

In 1995, about 193 million people out of a total EU population of 383 million faced water shortages. Several climate models predicted that between 20 per cent and 38 per cent of the Mediterranean population would be living under conditions of "increased water stress".

In this region, water scarcity was likely to be aggravated by greater demand for water for irrigation and tourism. Among the Mediterranean trees threatened by climate change were the cork oak, holm oak, aleppo pine, and maritime pine.

"These changes would have implications for the sense of place and cultural identity of the inhabitants, traditional forms of land use, and tourism," wrote the scientists.

Increasing rainfall was predicted for much of northern Europe, with higher levels of forestation and less land used for agriculture. Mountain areas were also likely to be hit hard by global warming, said the researchers.

Changes to the "run-off" from melting snow and ice would reduce water supply at peak demand times and increase the risk of winter floods.