Lake Garda recedes as global warming and extreme weather wreak havoc

Lake Garda recedes as global warming and extreme weather wreak havoc

An aerial view taken on August 16, 2022 shows the peninsula of Sirmione on Lake Garda, northern Italy, as the lake's waters recede due to severe drought.

Global warming and extreme weather is leading to severe drought, scarred landscapes, and dwindling water levels in Europe - with the likes of Italy's famed Lake Garda seeing rocks where there was water just a year ago.

Startling satellite imagery from Europe's Earth observation programme, Copernicus EU, shows a comparison of the Lake Garda coast in August 2021 and 2022, revealing a new beach has appeared. Similarly, Copernicus EU satellite data show starkly dwindling water supplies in Catalonia's Sau Reservoir.

Lake Garda, a burgeoning favourite with Irish holidaymakers in the northern Italian hills, has been affected by severe drought that has gripped Italy and other parts of the continent.

A lack of rainfall in recent months has dehydrated large swathes of Italy, while the River Po, the country's largest river, has not been able to serve agriculture to the same level as recent years because of its worst drought in 70 years. That has meant water being diverted from Lake Garda to irrigate fields.

Barren rocks

Barren rocks now appear in parts of Lake Garda where before tourists would enjoy watersports.

Copernicus' Global Drought Observatory (GDO) warned last month that a "staggering portion" of Europe is currently exposed to warming and drought conditions.

According to the latest map of the combined drought indicator, 47% of the EU territory is in warning conditions and 17% is in alert conditions.

A woman walks past paddle boast on the rocks of the peninsula of Sirmione.
A woman walks past paddle boast on the rocks of the peninsula of Sirmione.

"Compared to the previous months, drought hazard has been increasing, especially in France, Romania, and neighbouring regions, Western Germany, and several Mediterranean regions (central and southern Italy, southern Greece, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Iberian Peninsula). 

"Local recovery is observed in limited areas of France and the eastern Mediterranean. Regions already affected by drought in spring (eg northern Italy, south-eastern France, some areas in Hungary and Romania) are still under similar or worse conditions," the GDO report said.

Startling satellite imagery from Europe's Earth observation programme, Copernicus EU, shows a comparison of the Lake Garda coast in August 2021 and 2022, revealing a new beach has appeared.
Startling satellite imagery from Europe's Earth observation programme, Copernicus EU, shows a comparison of the Lake Garda coast in August 2021 and 2022, revealing a new beach has appeared.

Swiss scientists have found that simultaneous extreme heat and drought impact the economy, health and food production.

Researchers from the University of Zurich analysed eight extreme heat and drought events in Europe, Australia and Africa occurring during the last 20 years. 

Besides examining the direct and indirect consequences for various sectors and systems, they also studied the impact of responses to such events, they said.

First author of the study, Laura Niggli, said: "Financial losses, for example, can be substantial. In the cases studied they ranged from several hundred million to several billion US dollars."

In extreme cases such as the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, losses were up to approximately $100bn (€98.4bn), which is equivalent to over 5% of Australia’s GDP, the researchers said.

The results found that the direct effect of drought on a specific area is just a small part of the bigger picture, with health, energy, agriculture and food supply all particularly threatened.

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