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JRC releases report on plight of European coastal and sea waters
Commission Européenne - IP/07/179 14/02/2007
Brussels, 14 February 2007
The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has drafted a report detailing the effects climate change has on Europe’s coastal waters and regional seas. The report deals with the effects of climate change and the human impact on European coastal and marine habitats. It also identifies gaps in the current scientific and technological knowledge base regarding climate-related impacts, along with policy recommendations to address them. The report stresses that that any policies designed to mitigate climate change impacts will have to address human exploitation of the seas and coasts, to ensure sustainable management of marine resources The report was presented at the “Climate Change and the European Water Dimension” symposium organised by the German EU Presidency in Berlin (12-14 February).
Mounting scientific evidence illustrates how climate change and variability can harm coastal and marine habitats, and the JRC report, entitled “Marine and Coastal Dimension of Climate Change in Europe: A report to the European Water Directors”, makes it clear that Europe’s waters are not immune to its effects. The research, carried out by international experts under the co-ordination of the JRC, demonstrates that global warming is influencing different European ecosystems in different ways.
For example, water temperature trends in northern regions have progressed differently from those in the Mediterranean. In areas around Scotland, water temperatures have risen approximately 1°C over the last 20 years, whereas the change in the Mediterranean is closer to 0.5°C. Rates of sea level change have also varied, ranging from 0.8 mm per year to 3.0 mm per year, according to the report. Such changes in sea level interfere with other critical processes including tide behaviour, changes in sea ice conditions, evaporation and various tectonic developments on land such as rising land masses due to melting of glaciers, which require careful attention and continuous monitoring, the authors of the report say.
The report discusses how nuances in sustained environmental pressures, e.g. rising greenhouse gases, increasing surface temperature, rising sea level, etc., have led to increased episodes of catastrophic weather such as downpours, droughts, storm surges and floods - all of which come at high human and environmental costs. In just one example, the report says that the frequency of winter storms and extreme weather conditions has doubled over the past 50 years in northern regions of the UK.
Specifically, the report shows that climate change has altered: water characteristics and circulation; the carbon cycle and carbonate system (acidification); and whole ecosystems forcing warm-water species northward leading to a related decline in cold-water species. For example, dominant zooplankton species have declined by 70% since the 1960s as a result of water temperature increase, thereby deeply changing the structure of fish assemblages in the North Sea – in addition to over-fishing - with an almost complete disappearance of the economically-important cod population. Other environmental changes included in the report concern phenological cycles and trophic associations; coastal recession and erosion rates along the Western European coast as a result of sea level rise and storm surges; and incidence of coastal flooding and other environmental hazards/disasters due to tidal/storm surges.
Additionally, the report deals with the human impact on European coasts. It
points to ever-increasing human activity as having adverse effects on marine
habitats. Authors of the report list fisheries, energy production, trade and
tourism, among others, as examples of ways in which humans are altering marine
environments. Anthropogenic pressures can compound the effect of climate change
by reducing the resilience of marine and coastal systems, leaving them even more
vulnerable to climate forcing.