Czech scientists say Europe heading in different directions over droughts

Photo: Magdalena Kašubová

The Czech Republic alongside other European countries has been struggling in recent decades with increasingly frequent droughts. But research carried out by a team of scientists from the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at the Czech Life Sciences University suggests that Europe has actually witnessed similar or even more severe periods of drought in the past 1,000 years.

Photo: Magdalena Kašubová
I asked the head of the research team, Yannis Markonis, to tell me more about their discoveries:

“What we did was to look back 1,000 years and try to compare previous dry or wet periods with what we are seeing right now across Europe.

“To our surprise we found out that the changes are not homogenous all over Europe, that the north is much wetter compared to the past, while the South is a lot drier.

“We have observed that this behaviour has persisted for the last 100 years, more or less. The northern part of Europe was becoming wetter and wetter while the south drier and drier. For Central Europe there were mixed results.”

As you said, you were looking back 1000 years. So how have you carried out your research?

“Of course we don’t have direct observation for 1,000 years ago. Records of rainfall and temperature observation go back 50 or a maximum 100 years, so what we do is use indirect resources.

“For example in our case we have used tree rings. It has been shown that some trees are sensitive to changes in precipitation while others to changes in temperatures. So using the width of a tree rings we can reproduce the climate or hydro-climate of certain regions.”

You have observed a growing gap between the south and north of Europe. So what kind of development do you expect for this country?

“This is interesting. Until 10 years ago the Czech Republic was following the pattern of northern Europe, so it was quite wet. But 10 or 15 years ago there was an abrupt change towards more dry conditions.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
“Right now the Czech Republic is somehow below the average conditions of the last 1,000 years but it is quite a lot drier than in the past 80 years.

“So by studying past we are trying to see what might happen in the future, especially since the temperature is increasing. As temperatures increase, more water evaporates. So you can imagine that these kinds of droughts could be more severe if they happen in the future.

“We don’t say that it will happen, but with increasing temperature and evaporation there might be more severe consequences concerning water source availability.”