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Impacts of the 2018 severe drought and heatwave in Europe: from local to continental scale


During the summer of 2018, a widespread drought developed over Northern and Central Europe. The increase in temperature and the reduction of soil moisture have influenced carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange between the atmosphere and terrestrial ecosystems in various ways, such as a reduction of photosynthesis, changes in ecosystem respiration, or allowing more frequent fires.

This fact, reported in the article “The fingerprint of the summer 2018 drought in Europe on ground-based atmospheric CO2 measurements” to which our colleague, Mahesh Kumar Sha, contributed is part of an ICOS synthesis study.

ICOS, the Integrated Carbon Observation System, continuously measures important climate variables over 140 stations across Europe. This synthesis study, containing 17 papers published in a special theme issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, describes the impacts of the severe 2018 summer drought and shows how the vegetation in Europe responds to extreme dry conditions, such as occurred in the last three summers. It shows, for example, how the exchange of carbon between the vegetation and the atmosphere is affected. One paper covering 56 sites showed that in general carbon sinks decreased by 18%, meaning that plants were reducing their uptake of carbon dioxide and thus growing less. This is a significant result, since such extreme droughts will likely happen much more frequently in the future. At the same time, they provide us with crucial knowledge in our efforts to minimise the negative effects of climate change.

The study is a joint effort of over 200 top scientists, representing all European top universities and research institutes, made possible thanks to the infrastructure and data of ICOS.

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Extreme droughts like that of the summer of 2018 will likely happen much more frequently in the future due to climate change.