Europe’s worst drought since the Middle Ages seen from space

The last time Europe suffered from a drought as severe as the one it is experiencing in the summer of 2022 was before the first settlers settled in America.

Earth observation satellites have delivered a disconcerting stream of images to Europe climate change researchers in recent months. Water levels on some of the continent’s mightiest rivers, including the Rhine, Danube and Po, have fallen so low that waterways have had to be closed to traffic. Notoriously rainy countries, such as Great Britainhaven’t seen a drop of rain in months, turning the landscape into a wildfire-prone powder keg.

According to the European Union’s environmental program Copernicus, the 2022 drought could be the worst the continent has seen in 500 years. At the height of the drought at the end of August, 47% of European territory suffered from a “soil moisture deficit” and 17% of the territory suffered from “vegetation stress due to soil moisture deficit”. The drought, Copernicus said, affected many sectors, including agriculture, transport and energy production.

Related: Europe hits record high temperatures as satellites track heat wave from space

Some European countries, including Spain, the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, have implemented water rationing measures such as limits on daily water consumption and washing bans of cars.

Satellite data shows that only northern Scandinavia and the easternmost parts of Europe escaped the drought. Copernicus program staff wrote in a tweet (opens in a new tab) that although “the data has not yet been analyzed and the summer has not yet ended, the drought currently affecting Europe could be the worst in 500 years”.

If the analysis is confirmed, the summer of 2022 would be the driest since the mega-drought of 1540, which was apparently caused by an 11-month rainless period and a period of temperatures of 9 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 7 degrees Celsius) warmer than 20th-century European averages, according to Swiss historian Christian Pfister (opens in a new tab).

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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