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The Pyrenees heat up, dry up and melt away


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Navara Journal

David Elustondo Valencia

Professor at the University of Navarra and researcher of project REPLIM

At the end of 2018, the report on "Climate Change in the Pyrenees: impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation", coordinated by the Pyrenean Observatory of Climate Change (OPCC), was presented in Zaragoza. The report is the result of the project OPCC-2 and a hundred Spanish, French and Andorran scientists have collaborated in it, associated to four thematic projects: Clim'py, on climatology;Replim, on lakes and peatlands;Canopee, on forests; and Florapyr, on flora, all of them funded through the POCTEFA program.

The conclusions of the study are, to say the least, disturbing, as they show an increase of 1.2 Degrees in temperature over the last 50 years, 30% more than that observed worldwide in the same period (0.85 Degrees). In addition, precipitation has decreased by about 2.5% per decade, especially on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, and snow cover has decreased significantly. This has led to the disappearance of half of the Pyrenean glaciers.

Forecasts for the coming years are not at all optimistic, as maximum temperatures are expected to increase from 1.3 to 4 Degrees in 2050 and from 1.9 to 7.1 by the end of the century. internship This will lead to the loss of 50% of snow thickness and the disappearance of mountain glaciers; the risk of fires and the probability of extreme weather phenomena will increase, as well as heat and cold waves, prolonged droughts or intense rainfall.

All these changes have caused - and will continue to cause in the future - a loss of biodiversity that is difficult to quantify and that corresponds, among other things, to alterations in the life cycles of plants and animals - which break the "synchrony" between species that depend on each other -, the advancement of the bird migration season, the increase in the number and danger of pathogenic organisms and the disappearance of endemic species.

The big problem is that, unfortunately, that of the Pyrenees is not a unique case, as similar findings have been found both at European level - in mountain ranges such as the Alps and the Carpathians the temperature has increased by more than 2 Degrees in the last half century - and worldwide, because in higher altitude areas the incidence of climate change is higher. This makes high mountain ecosystems - highly specialized and therefore very susceptible to change - among the most threatened ecosystems in the world.

Some of these "sensitive" ecosystems, lakes and peat bogs, represent iconic elements of the high mountain landscape and may be under serious threat if immediate action is not taken, and in addition to their incalculable biological value, these ecosystems provide other services to the territory beyond their role as indicators of global change. For example, glaciers, lakes and peat bogs are an essential part of the natural attractiveness of these areas, so their conservation is very important in view of the increasing impact that tourism activities related to skiing or hiking have on the Economics of mountain areas.

In order to preserve these ecosystems, the project REPLIM (one of the four thematic projects in which several researchers from the University of Navarra have participated) has established a monitoring network in lakes and peatlands to study their past and future evolution. Due to their characteristics, both ecosystems are particularly useful for the study of climate change, since they respond to climatic and environmental fluctuations and can act as "sentinels" of these variations in the Pyrenean territory. In addition, both lakes and, above all, peat bogs store in their sediments information on the evolution of the climate over the last centuries or millennia.

It seems clear, based on the information on report, that the Pyrenees region will have to adapt significantly to mitigate the impact of climate change, given the enormous environmental and socioeconomic repercussions expected. Many of the changes observed or projected in the Pyrenees are similar to those found or expected worldwide. Since this is a global problem, mitigation actions will have to be carried out in a coordinated manner through global governance arrangements. However, decisions and actions will have to be developed at the local level, incorporating climate change into regional policies. It is urgent to reduce polluting emissions and initiate adaptation actions. In this process, we will all have to do our bit. Every small action counts. Think global, act local.