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River and coastal flooding affect millions of people in Europe each year. They affect human health through drowning, heart attacks, injuries, infections, exposure to chemical hazards, psychosocial consequences as well as disruption of services, including health services.
Observed increases in heavy precipitation and extreme coastal high-water events have led to more river and coastal flooding in many European regions.
Increases in health risks associated with coastal and river flooding are projected in many regions of Europe due to projected increases in sea level and in extreme precipitation events.
The length of the wet period has significantly increased in north-eastern Europe and decreased in south-western Europe. Changes in other regions are not statistically significant.
Data availability is insufficient for assessing trends of extreme daily precipitation across Europe. However, available studies generally point to a trend over recent decades towards more heavy precipitation, in particular in central and eastern Europe in winter.
No significant changes in the annually averaged duration of dry spells have been observed across Europe. However, increasing summer dryness has been observed in central and southern Europe since the 1950s.
Heavy precipitation events are likely to increase in most parts of Europe, especially in central and eastern Europe in winter.
The length of dry spells is projected to increase significantly in southern and central Europe, in particular in summer, and to decrease in northern Europe.
Precipitation trends since 1960 show an increase by up to 70 mm per decade in north-eastern and north-western Europe, in particular in winter, and a decrease by up to 90 mm per decade in some parts of southern Europe, in particular in summer.
Projected changes in precipitation vary substantially across regions and seasons. Annual precipitation is generally projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe. Projected decrease is the strongest in southern Europe in summer.
Long-term trends in river flows due to climate change are difficult to detect due to substantial inter annual and decadal variability as well as modifications to natural water flows arising from water abstractions, man-made reservoirs and land-use changes. Nevertheless, increased river flows during winter and lower river flows during summer have been recorded since the 1960s in large parts of Europe.
Climate change is projected to result in strong changes in the seasonality of river flows across Europe. Summer flows are projected to decrease in most of Europe, including in regions where annual flows are projected to increase.
Absolute decoupling of manufacturing industries ´nutrient emissions from the GVA is observed in 9 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Hungary, Netherland, Spain and Portugal). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in United Kingdom, France, Italy and Sweden. However in all cases the rate of emission decrease was greater than the one of GVA. Increase of nutrient emission despite drop in gross value added was observed in Belgium.
The developments arise from different absolute levels of emission intensities and depend on no major changes in the data coverage during the period within the countries, such as including more facilities in the latest year reporting despite already existing in earliest year. It should be noted that as some industrial emissions may vary considerable from year to year, the comparison of two selected years, only, may be subject to variations not being representative for a consistent trend.
Absolute decoupling of manufacturing industries ´heavy metals emissions from the GVA is observed again in 10 countries (Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Netherland, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Portugal). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium and Sweden. In all cases the rate of emission decrease was greater than the one of GVA. Increase of emission despite drop in GVA was observed in Finland.
Given the multiple factors that affect both sectoral GVA and the pollution pressure originating from manufacturing, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors which could aid in explaining the behaviour of these are the structure of the sector (e.g., facility size distribution, production technology, relative proportion reported as E-PRTR releases) , the socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. salary levels) of the area and the policy measures in place (e.g., treatment requirements). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the mentioned factors and their aggregate effects.
Absolute decoupling of nutrient emissions from domestic sector and the population growth over the period of almost two decades (1990-2009) is observed in thirteen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Turkey). The actual extent of decoupling, and the differences in trends among countries, may be partially explained by different levels of numbers of inhabitants connected to tertiary wastewater treatment technologies
When making the EU wide comparison of the extend of decoupling of nutrient emissions from population growth, the actual rate of population connected to different types of treatment (elaborated in the CSI 024) should be taken into consideration, and completeness of the data available on population connected to collecting systems without treatment. The status of the implementation of the UWWTD which protects the water environment from the adverse effects of discharges of urban waste water, the level of investment in the water and wastewater management ,as well as the status of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Groundwater Directive may have an impact. Furthermore household patterns as well as the household income level affecting the production and composition of waste water should be considered as well.
It is assumed that the use of actual data on loads discharged from wastewater treatment plants combined with the load values calculated for population not connected to the waste water treatment would add value to the decoupling indicator, as it would better reflect the real situation..
Nitrogen emission to water: Absolute decoupling of nitrogen emissions from GVA is observed in seven countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia ). This means that these countries succeeded in economy growth while reducing emissions to water. As the area of agriculture land remained constant during the analyzed period, the decrease in emission can be attributed to decrease in specific gross nutrient balance per hectare.
Relative decoupling was observed in the Czech Republic, and Poland. This means that the resource efficiency has increased, however with higher absolute emissions. Decreases in emissions coupled with a decrease in GVA occurred in 11 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In six out of those 11 countries, the rate of emission decrease was greater than the rate of the GVA decrease.
Phosphorus emission to water: Absolute decoupling of phosphorus emissions from the GVA is observed in five countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Slovenia). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in ten countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In all these countries except Denmark, the rate of emission decrease was greater than the rate of the decrease of GVA.
The ranges of nutrient emission intensity of agriculture are quite wide and reflect varieties of agriculture practices across European countries.
Values of nitrogen emission intensity for 2008 range from 6,0 to 176 tons of total nitrogen per million EUR GVA per year. Significant decrease in nitrogen emission intensity between 2000 and 2008 was recorded in Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In 2008 Bulgaria, Portugal and Romania reported (in Eurostat) the lowest values of the specific nitrogen balance per hectare. In creased emission intensity was observed in Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom, however, this was due to a falling GVA not to emissions, which actually were reduced. Calculation of emission intensity based on GVA diminished by subsidies, which reflects better the actual economic performance from agriculture, result in much higher emission intensities for countries, e.g., Norway, Finland , Lithuania and Poland with relatively high contributions from subsidies to the economy.. The increment in emission intensity associated with excluding subsidies is significant namely in Norway (106 t/mio EUR/y) and Finland (38,8 t/mio EUR/y).
The 2008 values for total phosphorus emission intensity range from 0,47 to 13,03 tons per million EUR GVA per year. Significant decrease in the phosphorus emission intensity (decrease by more than 50%) over the last decade was recorded in nine countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech republic, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia). Moreover, Austria, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal, reported (Eurostat) the lowest values of the specific phosphorus balance per hectare comparable to the EU-27 average, being 1 kg of total phosphorus per hectare per year. The impact of subsidies on phosphorus emission intensity (based on 2008 data), was most significant in Norway and Finland, where the increment in emission intensity associated with excluding subsidies accounted for 16,24 and 3,49 t/mio EUR/y respectively , whereas the increment in remaining countries did not exceed 1 t/mio EUR/y.
Subsidies: The analysis of subsidies on the output of the agricultural industry for the studied years showed that 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) reduced the proportion of subsidies in relation to the GVA of their agricultural sector between 2000 and 2008. On the other hand, 5 countries (Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) increased this proportion during the same period. Information was incomplete for Bulgaria and Germany, where subsidy levels for years 2000 and 2008 respectively were reported as zero (Eurostat). Noteworthy is the sharp increase in the proportion of subsidies as part of GVA (being in the range between 12-26 % of GVA) in new Member States like Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia accompanied by the increase of GVA values. And, on the other hand, the significant reductions in old Member States like Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Given the multiple factors that affect both the change in sectoral GVA and in nutrient balance, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors which could aid in explaining the behavior of these are the structure of the sector (e.g. farm size, standard gross margins, crop type, stocking rate), the socioeconomic characteristics of the area (e.g. rural population, income and employment levels) and the policy measures in place (e.g. subsidies). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the mentioned factors and their aggregate effects.
In 2010, the highest concentrations of oxidized nitrogen were found in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulf of Riga and Kiel Bay, and in Belgian, Dutch and German coastal waters in the Greater North Sea. Reported stations in the Northern Spanish and Croatian coastal waters also showed high concentration levels. The highest orthophosphate concentrations were found in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulf of Riga and Kiel Bay, and in Irish, Belgian, Dutch and German coastal waters in the Greater North Sea. Coastal stations along Northern Spain and Southern France also showed high concentration levels.
Between 1985 and 2010, overall nutrient concentrations have been either stable or decreasing in stations reported to the EEA in the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas and in the Baltic Sea. However, this decrease has been more pronounced for nitrogen. Assessments for the overall Mediterranean and Black Sea regions were not possible, data only being available for stations in France and Croatia.
For oxidized nitrogen concentrations, 14% of all the reported stations showed decreasing trends, whereas only 2% showed increasing trends. Decreases were most evident in the Baltic Sea (coastal waters of Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and open waters) and in southern part of the coast of the Greater North Sea. Increasing trends were mainly found in Croatian coastal stations.
For orthophosphate concentrations, 10% of all the reported stations showed a decrease. This was most evident in coastal and open water stations in the Greater North Sea, and in coastal stations in the Baltic Sea. Increasing orthophosphate trends, observed in 6% of the reported stations, were mainly detected in Irish, Danish and Finnish coastal waters (Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Bothnia) and in open waters of the Baltic Proper.
In 2010, the highest summer chlorophyll-a concentrations were observed in coastal areas and estuaries where nutrient concentrations are also generally high (see CSI 021 Nutrients in transitional, coastal and marine waters). These include the Gulf of Riga, Gulf of Gdansk, Gulf of Finland and along the German coast in the Baltic Sea, coastal areas in Belgium and The Netherlands in the Greater North Sea and in few locations along the coast of Ireland and France in the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay, respectively. High chlorophyll concentrations were also observed along the Gulf of Lions and in Montenegro coastal waters in the Mediterranean Sea, and along Romanian coastal waters in the Black Sea. Low summer chlorophyll concentrations were mainly observed in the Kattegat and open sea stations in the Greater North Sea, and in open sea stations in southern Baltic Sea.
Between 1985 to 2010, decreasing chlorophyll concentrations (showed in 8% of all the stations in the European seas reported to the EEA) were predominantly found along the southern coast of the Greater North Sea, along the Finnish coast in the Bothnian Bay in the Baltic Sea and in a few stations in the Western Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea. In the Black Sea, it was not possible to make an overall assessment due to the lack of time series data. Increasing concentrations (observed in 5% of the reported stations) were generally observed in coastal locations in the Northern Baltic Sea but also in the open sea stations outside the north of the Celtic Seas. Most stations (87%) however showed no changes over time.
The concentrations were generally Low or Moderate for HCB and lindane, Moderate for cadmium, mercury and lead, and Moderate or High for PCB and DDT. A general downward trend was found in the Northeast Atlantic for lead, lindane, PCB and DDT and also in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea for lindane. A general upward trend was found in the Mediterranean Sea for mercury and lead.
Wastewater treatment in all parts of Europe has improved during the last 15-20 years. The percentage of the population connected to wastewater treatment in the Southern, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe has increased over the last ten years. Latest values of population connected to wastewater treatment in the Southern countries are comparable to the values of Central and Northern countries, whereas the values of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe are still relatively low compared to Central and Northern Europe.
Water temperatures in major European rivers have increased by 1–3 °C over the last century. Several time series show increasing lake and river temperatures all over Europe over the last 60 to 90 years.
Lake and river surface water temperatures are projected to increase with further projected increases in air temperature.
Increased temperature can result in marked changes in species composition and functioning of aquatic ecosystems.
The existence of ice cover and the timing of ice break-up influence the vertical mixing of lakes and are therefore of critical ecological importance.
The duration of ice cover on European lakes and rivers has shortened at a mean rate of 12 days per century over the last 150–200 years.
A further decrease in the duration of lake ice cover is projected with projected climate change.
More than 325 major river floods have been reported for Europe since 1980, of which more than 200 have been reported since 2000.
The rise in the reported number of flood events over recent decades results mainly from better reporting and from land-use changes
Global warming is projected to intensify the hydrological cycle and increase the occurrence and frequency of flood events in large parts of Europe. However, estimates of changes in flood frequency and magnitude remain highly uncertain. In regions with reduced snow accumulation during winter, the risk of early spring flooding would decrease.
Europe has been affected by several major droughts in recent decades, such as the catastrophic drought associated with the 2003 summer heat wave in central parts of the continent and the 2005 drought in the Iberian Peninsula.
Severity and frequency of droughts appear to have increased in parts of Europe, in particular in southern Europe.
Regions most prone to an increase in drought hazard are southern and south-eastern Europe, but minimum river flows will also decrease significantly in many other parts of the continent, especially in summer.
The quality of water at designated bathing waters in Europe (coastal and inland) has improved significantly since 1990.
Compliance with mandatory values in EU coastal bathing waters increased from just below 80 % in 1990 to 93.1 % in 2011. Compliance with guide values likewise rose from over 68 % to 80.1 % in 2011.
Compliance with mandatory values in EU inland bathing waters increased from over 52 % in 1990 to 89.9 % in 2011. Similarly, the rate of compliance with guide values moved from over 36 % in 1990 to 70.4 % in 2011.
Concentrations of BOD and total ammonium have decreased in European rivers in the period 1992 to 2010 (Fig. 1), mainly due to general improvement in wastewater treatment.
See also WISE interactive maps: Mean annual BOD in rivers and Mean annual Total Ammonium in rivers
Average nitrate concentrations in European groundwaters increased from 1992 to 1998, but have declined again since 2004.
The average nitrate concentration in European rivers decreased by approximately 11% between 1992 and 2010 (from 2.5 to 2.2 mg/l N), reflecting the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate as well as improvement in wastewater treatment.
Average orthophosphate concentrations in European rivers have decreased markedly over the last two decades, being more than halved between 1992 and 2010 (54% decrease). Also average lake phosphorus concentration decreased over the period 1992-2010 (by 31%), the major part of the decrease occurring in the beginning of the period, but is still ongoing. The decrease in phosphorus concentrations reflects both improvement in wastewater treatment and reduction in phosphorus in detergents.
Overall, reductions in the levels of freshwater nutrients over the last two decades primarily reflect improvements in wastewater treatment. Emissions from agriculture continue to be a significant source.
Over the last 10-17 years the Water Exploitation Index (WEI) decreased in 24 EEA countries (Fig.1), as a result of water saving and water efficiency measures. Total water abstraction decreased about 12 %, but one fifth of Europe's population still lives in water-stressed countries (approx. 113 million inhabitants).
At EU-15 level the gross nitrogen balance in 2000 was calculated to be 55 kg/ha, which is 16% lower than the balance estimate in 1990, which was 66 kg/ha. In 2000 the gross nitrogen balance ranged from 37 kg/ha (Italy) to 226 kg/ha (the Netherlands). All national gross nitrogen balances show a decline in estimates of the gross nitrogen balance (kg/ha) between 1990 and 2000, apart from Ireland (22% increase) and Spain (47% increase). The following Member States showed organic fertiliser application rates greater than the threshold of 170 kg/ha specified by the Nitrates Directive in 2000: the Netherlands (206 kg/ha) and Belgium (204 kg/ha). The general decline in nitrogen balance surpluses is due to a small decrease in nitrogen input rates (-1.0%) and a significant increase in nitrogen output rates (10%).
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
PDF generated on 28 Dec 2014, 08:22 PM
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