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Drought in Germany and worldwide: the retreat of the water


Rivers and lakes are reaching historic lows, and vast swaths of land have dried up. The extreme summer in the northern hemisphere can also be seen from space.

The summer of 2022 was unprecedented with extreme weather across much of the northern hemisphere.

"Almost a third of the northern hemisphere was affected by drought," says Omar Baddour, head of climate monitoring at the World Weather Organization (WMO).

"It was very unusual."

From Southeast Asia to China, the US, Africa and Europe, records of heat and drought have been set everywhere.

Forests have burned down in regions that otherwise hardly know the risk of forest fires.

Fields wither and harvests fail, drinking water has become scarce in some places.

The drama can also be seen from space.

Drought in large parts of Germany

Satellite images from the private operator Planet show the unusually low water level of the Rhine near Düsseldorf this summer compared to August last year (see slide below).

Germany's most important inland waterway has made headlines in recent weeks because of low water.

In mid-August 2022, the water level in Kaub in Rhineland-Palatinate had fallen below the 40 centimeter mark.

The value there is considered an important indicator of the fairway depth of the river.

Shipping was temporarily affected.

The main reason why rivers dry up is the lack of precipitation – sometimes even in winter.

High temperatures and solar radiation can then compound the problem because they contribute to more water evaporating than replenishing.

According to preliminary calculations by the German Weather Service (DWD), Germany experienced one of the sunniest, hottest and driest summers since records began.

The DWD has been recording sunshine duration since 1951, temperatures and precipitation have been recorded since 1881.

"In times of climate change, we should have experienced what will soon be a typical summer," says DWD meteorologist Uwe Kirsche.

To this day, large parts of Germany are affected by exceptional drought.

The drought monitor of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) records, among other things, the moisture of the entire soil (about 1.8 meters).

The map currently appears everywhere in the warning colors yellow to dark red, which stand for "unusually dry" to "extraordinary drought" (see gif above).

Planet satellite images from the summers of 2021 and 2022 show how Germany's appearance has changed compared to July of last summer.

There is a lack of lush green, large areas have dried up because the vegetation in the ground can no longer find enough water.

Severe drought in southern Europe

Numerous states in southern Europe are also suffering from severe drought.

According to the government, France experienced the worst drought ever recorded, and more than 100 municipalities had no drinking water at times.

Agricultural irrigation was restricted.

In Spain, the level of the reservoirs fell to 36.9 percent, according to government figures.

According to the media, this is the lowest level since at least 1995. Dozens of Spanish communities rationed drinking water.

Italy experienced one of the hottest summers in the past 40 years.

The Po River carried less water than at any time since records began.

Images from the Esa »Sentinel-2« satellites show the river in June of the years 2020 to 2022 (see gif above).

The water level of Lake Garda reached its lowest level in 15 years in mid-August.

Planet shows the southern part of the body of water around the tourist resort of Santa Maria di Lugana in July 2021 and July 2022 in comparison (see slider above).

The vegetation around the lake has also dried up significantly.

Take care of the great salt lake

Things are often no better around the world.

The southwest of the USA in particular has recently experienced unusual, sometimes extreme drought.

2022 also had the third warmest July since records began 128 years ago.

Only in July 1936 and 2012 were average temperatures higher.

According to the US weather agency NOAA, regions in which around 172 million people live, and thus more than 55 percent of the population, are affected by heat and drought.

Again, many rivers and reservoirs have very little water.

For example, in July, Utah's Great Salt Lake, the largest of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere, hit a historic low in July.

The water level has been recorded since around the middle of the 19th century.

The Great Salt Lake has been shrinking for decades, in part because water from rivers and streams that feed the lake is diverted to fields and residential areas.

The extreme drought in the American Southwest this summer did the rest.

The loss of large parts of the body of water since 1985 can be seen on a satellite image from the European Space Agency Esa.

According to the US Geological Survey, the lake has lost almost half its surface area compared to the historical average.

About 2000 km² of seabed were uncovered - an area the size of Tenerife.

Compared to the peak in 1987, the lake only contains a little more than a quarter of the amount of water.

This also increases the salt content, which threatens wildlife.

Drought endangers power supply

There were also drying up river courses in China.

The Yangtze is the longest and most important river in the country, providing water to more than 400 million people.

This summer, however, the Yangtze River basin received 45 percent less water than usual, the ESA reports.

Sections of the main stream and dozens of tributaries dried up.

Sichuan province gets 80 percent of its energy from hydroelectric power.

There the electricity was scarce.

Images from this year and the past two years from the »Sentinel-2« satellites show particularly low water levels in the Yangtze (see series of images above).

It is also noticeable that the river looks cleaner.

However, this is not a good sign, but the result of a weakened transport of sediments from the river bed due to the low water level.

The drought in the Yangtze River Basin is also affecting Lake Poyang, China's largest freshwater lake (see slider below).

That its size varies between summer and winter season is normal.

In winter, the water level is typically low, in summer it rises significantly, fed by the Yangtze River.

In the summer of 2022, however, the phenomenon of the rising water level did not materialize, reports the American space agency Nasa.

The lake reached the highest water level of the season in June 2022 and already went into the dry phase in early August - around 100 days earlier than usual.

Since records began in 1951, the lake has never reached such a low water level.

The level is sinking to this day.

After the drought comes the flood

"Weather extremes have always existed," says WMA expert Baddour.

“But it is clear that climate change will make them more frequent and more intense.” In addition to extreme drought, these extremes also include floods.

In Pakistan, for example, extreme and unusually early heat in April and May was followed by devastating floods.

Pakistan had nearly three times the average rainfall in August over the past 30 years, reports the WMO.

Millions of people have lost their belongings, more than 700,000 livestock have died and millions of tons of crops are lost.

The province of Sindh is one of the worst affected by the summer monsoon.

The NASA satellites "Landsat 8" and "Landsat 9" recorded the region around Lake Hamal on August 4 and 28, 2022 (see slider above).

The false color images show high water in deep blue.

The melting of the approximately 7,000 glaciers in Pakistan also contributes to the accident.

The country hosts most of the glacial ice outside the polar regions, where it is also melting.

In northern Pakistan, rain and meltwater have recently turned slopes into torrents.


Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-09-05

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