Europe is threatened by extremely low levels of groundwater reserves, following the prolonged drought in the summer of 2022.
1. Severe drought
Scientists are raising the alarm saying that the old continent is “on the verge of a catastrophe” as water reserves seem to be increasingly scarce. A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reveals that severe drought is damaging natural habitats, affecting agriculture and creating major energy shortages.
Dry riverbeds and the slow disappearance of stagnant waters severely impacted both nature and people. From aquatic species losing their habitats, to hardships in agriculture due to dry soil, water shortages are becoming a serious problem. Last summer, data released by the European Drought Observatory revealed that about 60% of Europe and the United Kingdom is currently in danger of drought.
“A few years ago, I would never have imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe, especially in Germany or Austria,” said Dr Torsten Mayer-Gürr, a professor at Graz University of Technology, Austria, and study author.
2. Energy impact
The energy shortage in Europe also worsened as a result. With rising concerns over water scarcity, mainly due to climate change, there are fears that the big transition to renewable energy will be hindered, or even the production of fossil fuels. In France, for example, without sufficient amounts of cooling water, nuclear power plants struggled to generate enough electricity. Hydroelectric power plants have also struggled to fulfil their function due to the lack of water. Hydropower generation, which relies on water to produce electricity, has fallen by 44% in Spain, according to the BBC, and 20% overall.
Hydropower generation in Spain totalled 878GWh in October, the lowest level since at least 1990 according to data collected by REE. W-A-W!— Jacqueline Echevarria (@J_Echevarria_) November 1, 2017
In order to acquire reliable data, the team used satellite gravimetry to observe the world’s groundwater resources and keep track of changes seen over several years.
The processing and the computational effort here are quite large. We have a distance measurement every five seconds and thus about half a million measurements per month. From this, we then determine gravity field maps.Dr Torsten Mayer-Gürr, a professor at Graz University of Technology
They used twin satellites that orbit the Earth in a polar orbit at an altitude of just under 490km. With the data pooled from the satellites, the team was able to read the total mass, from which the changes in the rivers and lakes are then subtracted. Soil moisture, snow and ice are also subtracted and then finally only the groundwater remains. The distance between the satellites of around 200km was crucial to the project and it was constantly and precisely measured.