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Change impacts and adaptation in Europe, focusing on extremes and adaptation until the 2030s - PESETA-3 project, final sector report on Task 9: Droughts

Carmelo Cammalleri, Paulo Marinho Ferreira Barbosa, Fabio Micale, Juergen V. Vogt

Executive summary. This document reports the results of the analyses performed within the framework of the PESETA3 project regarding the Task 9 - Droughts. The main objective of this task is to provide robust scientific-based information to stakeholders and decision makers on the possible impacts of future climate scenarios on the occurrence of drought events.
This report is focused on the analysis of the variations of soil moisture on the European continent, as well as of a soil moisture-based drought severity indicator (DSI), in order to evaluate the possible increase/decrease in future occurrence and severity of soil drought events and the related hazard and risk.
Following the guideline of the project, five bias-corrected climatological datasets were used to force the LISFLOOD hydrological model that produces the daily soil moisture maps used in this analysis. These datasets were part of the EURO-CORDEX package and were used to characterize both the present reference period (1981-2010) and the future scenario at the date when a global 2 °C warming will occur according to the RCP8.5 scenario (different for each dataset and around the mid of the century). In the framework of this project, considering the specific purpose of the report, only the RCP8.5 scenario was selected in order to provide a clear indication on the possible future impacts of a strong climate change.
The most relevant findings of the analysis depicted a scenario with differences that are statistically significant only on a limited fraction of the continental territories, with negative impacts limited to the Mediterranean and South-western Europe area for both soil moisture (reduction in water availability during both the dry and the wet season) and extreme drought events (increase in drought hazard). Particularly concerning is the increase of drought hazard over areas that are already drought prone and characterized by semi-arid climate, even if a limited impact on drought risk is expected due to the low present exposure and vulnerability of the same regions.
Overall, it appears clear from this study that the EU goal to limit the global warming at 2 °C, as compared to the average temperature in pre-industrial times, will confine the variations in drought impacts to a minor fraction of the European continent in the nearfuture, as shown by the obtained results.

Conclusions. The main goal of this study was to evaluate the effects of a 2°C warming scenario (RCP8.5) on the occurrence of drought events over Europe. In order to explicitly account for the effects of both precipitation and air temperature changes on the water budget, a soil moisture-based drought severity index (DSI) was used to quantify the changes in drought hazard (DH) between the present and the future scenario.
Given that the soil moisture “average” conditions have a key role in the definition of extreme events (as they are usually defined as divergence from a reference “normal” or “average” status), yearly soil moisture dynamics have been analysed before to evaluate the variation in the occurrence of extreme events. Overall, on the one hand, Mediterranean regions are experiencing the strongest reduction in soil moisture, which seems to equally occur along the full year; on the other hand, North and East Europe are the areas mostly affected by a future increase in water availability, which is mostly larger during the wet season. This analysis depicted a scenario where future variations across the continent are driving a further polarization of soil moisture availability. On the majority of the European continent the simulations provided limited statistically significant variations of soil water content until the middle of the century.
These variations directly reflect the severity of drought events, which is statistically significantly increasing in some areas of the Mediterranean basin (mostly Iberian Peninsula and North Africa) while decreasing in Eastern Europe (i.e., Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus and most of Ukraine); those variations are causing an increase in DH in areas that are already drought prone, and a reduction in areas that are currently already marginally affected by drought events. Among the areas negatively affected, particular concern relates to Andalucía, Extremadura and Algarve, because the soil moisture variations will be characterized by both a reduction of the annual average and an increase of annual amplitude, depicting deeper annual minimum values in the soil moisture curves. Nowadays, these areas are already characterized by dry or semi-arid conditions and are prone to drought events.
Variations in drought hazard, jointly with present-time static maps of drought exposure and vulnerability (DE × DV), allows inferring future variations in drought risk (DR) based on the present economy and population; in this regard, it is worth noticing how the areas with an increasing DH are the ones currently characterized by low “propensity-todamage” while the regions with decreasing DH are generally characterized by high values of “propensity-to-damage”. This result suggests a tendency to have more spatially uniform Drought Risk in the near future.
A relevant result of this study is related to the potential efficiency of the EU political decision to limit the global warming at 2°C. The simulations analysed in this study clearly provide evidences that in this scenario the extension of the areas interested by a variation in the climate change-driven drought events will be limited in the near-future, with an affected areas of about 20 % of the European domain, of which only 6 % (out of 20 %) experiencing an increase in drought hazard.

Vol. 28990 EN (2017), 
Key: INRMM:14514512



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