Extreme droughts are likely to become much more frequent across central Europe, and if global greenhouse gas emissions rise strongly they could happen seven times more often, new research has shown.
The area of crops likely to be affected by drought is also set to increase, and under sharply rising CO2 levels would nearly double in central Europe in the second half of this century, to more than 40m hectares (154,440 sq miles) of farmland.
Central Europe suffered its biggest and most damaging drought on record in 2018 and 2019, which had two of the three warmest summer periods ever recorded on the continent. The summers were also much drier than average, and more than half of the region suffered severe drought conditions.
Rivers and watercourses dried up, some crops were ruined and wildfires increased during these two years of extreme drought. The only other drought on record to come close, in 1949 and 1950, affected a land area about a third smaller.
By comparing the conditions with weather records dating back to 1766, and using computer models of climate change, researchers from UFZ-Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, were able to forecast that moderate reductions in greenhouse gases from their current levels would halve the likelihood of such extreme droughts, and shrink the affected land area by nearly 40%.