August 17, 2022

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Italy’s longest river, the Po, is drying up as climate change is affecting Italy’s major rivers

The Po River, the longest river in Italy, is hitting record low water levels after months without heavy rainfall.

Stretching from the Alps in the northwest to the Adriatic Sea on the east coast, the vast waterway is a vital source of water for several regions. It is used for drinking water, nourishing vast swathes of agricultural land, as well as producing hydroelectric power across northern Italy.

Water in the Po Valley has now dropped to record-low levels, partly as a result of the lack of rainfall that northern Italy has been suffering, as well as high temperatures and a lack of snow in the mountains that feed the river. Many of these areas have now been without any rain at all for more than 110 days, according to the Po River Observatory

The Po River is normally a wide stretch of murky water but has now dried up with large expanses of sand exposed.

The Po Valley is the most important agricultural area in the country, as it produces around 40% of Italy’s food including wheat, rice, and tomatoes. With the ongoing drought, farmers are struggling to keep crops irrigated and many towns in the Po Valley have been asked to ration water during the night amidst the drought.

“According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture consumes up to 70% of freshwater, and given the increasing water scarcity, water use in this sector needs to be more efficient,” said Benjamin Koetz, Head of ESA’s Sustainable Initiatives Office. ESA is preparing the Land Surface Temperature Monitoring Mission as part of the Copernicus Expansion Missions for this purpose, which will allow us to monitor crop evapotranspiration at the field level and, as a result, support sustainable irrigation practices.”

According to new findings from an ESA-funded project called CAREHeat, the Mediterranean Sea is currently experiencing a marine heatwave, with temperatures in May 2022 being 4°C (7.2°F) higher than the 1985-2005 average. The findings indicate that the surface water temperature hit peaks of over 23°C (73°F).

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