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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
Europe study shows climate risks
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter

A dog walks along a dry cracked reservoir bed in Alcora, eastern Spain, AP
If you live in Europe you are a lucky toad, but maybe not as lucky as I would have thought before doing this assessment
Dagmar Schroeter, Harvard University
Mediterranean and mountain regions of Europe will be hardest hit by the changes set to affect the continent's natural resources this century.

That is the conclusion of a Europe-wide assessment that highlights the threat posed by climate change.

The Mediterranean will be at increased risk of forest fires, water shortages, loss of agricultural land and from its tree species shifting northward.

The study, by an international team, appears in the journal Science.

The assessment set out to forecast the impact of climate change, shifting land use and socio-economic factors on Europe during the 21st Century.

It simulated the effects of changes in soil fertility and water availability as the climate changes and humans respond, for example, by modifying land use patterns or moving to new areas.

Water shortages

Of all European regions, the Mediterranean was most vulnerable to the global-scale changes projected to occur during the course of this century.

Many of the effects on this region are related to increased temperatures and reduced rainfall.

Floods in southern Germany, 2005, Getty Images
Water will also be an issue in mountain regions
"If you have an increase in droughts, you get an increased risk of forest fires and changing suitability for crops. You will also see decreases in water per capita for the people living there," said lead author Dagmar Schroeter of Harvard University.

Mountain regions also appear vulnerable because of a rise in the elevation of snow cover and changes in river run-off.

"In winter, precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. The whole regime of peak flow times changes and you get an increased probability of flooding in winter and spring," Dr Schroeter told the BBC News website.

"You will get less water in summer because the water which was stored in the snow cover is no longer there."

Such changes would significantly impact both the skiing and hydroelectric industries, Dr Schroeter said.

Time to adapt

The report did identify some positive effects. These include forest expansion due to a reduced demand on land from agriculture. Farmers in northern Europe could also begin to exploit crops usually grown in the Mediterranean.

Forests act as a "carbon sink" absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But by the latter half of the century, rising temperatures due to climate change will balance this positive effect.

"By mid-century, it will probably become so hot that the soils will, instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, start releasing carbon dioxide - they will become an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions," explained Dr Schroeter.

The Harvard researcher says other parts of the world will fare much worse than Europe in the face of climate change and other global trends.

"If you live in Europe you are a lucky toad, but maybe not as lucky as I would have thought before doing this assessment. I was surprised by some of the very negative impacts of climate change," she said.

The researchers conclude that the involvement of policy-makers is required if European states are to develop effective strategies to cope with the changes.

See the effects of harsh weather conditions

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