Slovakia's Brown Bears wake up with a Climate Change headache

Slovakia is seeing the effects of global warming in an unusual, and for some people, frightening way. The country has a relatively large population of brown bears and due to unseasonally warm winter temperatures they've been waking early from their hibernation. As Christopher George reports from Bratislava neither bears nor humans are happy about it.

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Temperatures of around 15 degrees have woken many bears causing confrontation with surprised hunters. In the Tatra mountains two men were injured during their encounter with a hungry and grumpy brown bear who would normally be fast asleep. But this is just one way in which a changing climate will affect Slovakia. Pavel Nedlik, works for the Slovak Hydro meteorological Institute. He says it’s extremely difficult to predict what will happen.

"Well there are some projections of course, these are Climate scenarios, and this is not a forecast. We expect a higher frequency of heat waves and cold waves, frequent climate extremes, also a redistribution of precipitation in Slovakia."

Milan Lapin is a professor, responsible for the teaching of meteorology and Climatology at Bratislava’s Comenius University. He told me this part of Europe could see a dramatic impact on agriculture as global temperatures rise.

"Generally we will see the climate move from the south to the north, from Komarno to Poprad. This change will be very significant, because of natural eco-systems, but also because of economical consequences. Slovakia is very vulnerable to water shortages, especially in summer. Droughts will come earlier and this is very dangerous for agriculture and also for natural ecosystems like forests in Slovakia.

So you can also see the changes in the plant life here?

"Yes this is the truth of course. Here we need an instant improvement in irrigation, we need to keep the water inside the country and improve the management of water".

What are we seeing in the changes, long term, let’s say 100 years?

Lapin: "Slovakia is warmer by 1.2 degrees".

Nedlik: "In the next 100 years....? so it was around 1 degree, and it will be between 2 and 4 degree in the future".

Are we just having a warmer period?

Nedlik: "The climate in the past had warm periods and cold periods of course, but this does not happen over a few years this happens over 100’s of years. But I’d like to describe the problem here in Slovakia. In case of an increase of temperature by just one degree we would need an increase of 100mm of precipitation, because of increasing evaporation. Scenarios expect an increase of 4 degrees so we will need an extra 400mm, and no forecast expect this increase".

So are the changes in the ecosystems affecting the animals to a great degree?

Nedlik: "There are more animals and insects living here. And the problem is we expect an invasion of new insects and even diseases to this territory".

Lapin: "Yes, especially insects from Mediterranean areas. Some insects are approaching rapidly. Also in the last years were very warm summers. We recognised some insects were coming here from the Mediterranean":

Do you see any hazards in the summer for such heat waves, for people really?

Lapin: "High temperatures are very unusual here in Slovakia, because we have maximum temperature of around 28 degrees, but not only high temperatures are dangerous here in Slovakia, but also high humidity. If high temperatures combine with high humidity it will be very dangerous for old people and also young people. Our housing developments are not built to withstand such high heat waves. People here don’t have air conditioning, and it’s very difficult to bear such heat waves, in case of longer duration. One or two days are ok, but 20-30 days that is very dangerous".

Nedlik: "These heat waves will have one of two consequences, but there are no firm studies on this, but of course we can expect a high mortality during these heat waves within people who suffer from coronary diseases. And the second consequence comes in the energy sector. 15 to 20 years ago no one had air conditioned apartments, now 10% are air-conditioned. We can expect a huge wave of them soon. For example in Prague they had a collapse of the energy system 2 yrs ago".