Satellites show signs of drought in European groundwater

Satellites show signs of drought in European groundwater
Satellites show signs of drought in European groundwater

A gravity restoration and climate change experiment carried out on the GRACE-FO satellites has shown signs of drought in European groundwater.

Drought weather conditions began in Eastern Europe in early spring 2020 and then affected other parts of the continent with drier than normal weather in April and May, according to Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). In late May and June, surface soil moisture and waterways recovered slightly after heavy rainfall.

In the seasonal review and forecast, C3S meteorologists forecast below average rainfall for Southern and Eastern Europe in June, July and August. The Geoglam Crop Monitor, an Earth observation team, has placed much of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as southwestern Russia, under surveillance for the potential impact of drought on wheat production.

"Monitoring the moisture content of the root zone is essential to agricultural management because it is the water naturally available for growing crops," said Michael Karlovich of NASA's Earth Observatory.

“Soil moisture at the Earth's surface and in the root zone can fluctuate significantly for short periods of time; it can be quickly replenished by rainfall, but can also evaporate rapidly during heatwaves and dry spells. In fact, recent rains in some parts of Europe have significantly reduced surface moisture."

Groundwater is a deeper resource for drinking water and crop irrigation. It also maintains flows during dry periods. Unlike the root zone and surface moisture, groundwater takes months to recover as it must be constantly replenished with surface moisture, which sinks to the groundwater level.

As much of the continent faced droughts in the summers of 2018 and 2019, as well as little snow in the 2019-20 winter season, much of Europe started this year with large deficits.

After six years of no rain, the Czech Republic reported this spring that nearly 80 percent of its wells are experiencing mild or extreme drought. In Ukraine, the water level in the Desna River has reached the lowest point in 140 years of observation. In early June, reservoirs around Kiev reached their lowest level in nearly a century. Polish climatologists also reported one of the worst droughts in the past hundred years, with agricultural drought reported in 11 of the 16 provinces.

“In terms of global food security and agricultural raw materials, Europe is important because it is one of the largest wheat producing regions in the world, as well as a major corn producing region. Both wheat and maize are major food security crops,” said Brian Barker, leader of the GEOGLAM group.

"Persistent rainfall shortages, coupled with above average temperatures since winter, have negatively affected large areas across Europe, lowering projected crop yields from the five-year average in several countries."