Mediterranean Sea and Region, including Adriatic Sea

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Mediterranean Sea and Region

Considering vulnerable European regions, the Mediterranean Sea is a largely enclosed sea, with high temperature and salinity, and decreasing fresh water due to dams and river diversions. Under the changing climate regime, sea surface temperatures and salinity will increase. Biodiversity, conservation, water quality, quantity and seasonal flows will be significantly affected. The negative impacts of pollution and nutrient into waters may increase. Depending on the local characteristics, erosion, sediment deposition, drought, desertification and flooding may intensify or shift.

Coastal and beach tourism is also an important source of income in the Mediterranean and south Atlantic regions. The ongoing economic viability of many regions and local communities may depend on an acceptable balance being tourist development and the maintenance of the coastal and marine ecosystems that tourism activity depends upon.

Complex interactions between overfishing and climate change could facilitate ecosystem shifts. A recent example may be presence of algal blooms and jellyfish in Mediterranean and other regions due to combination of higher water temperatures, overfishing and nutrient influxes. In the Mediterranean, algal blooms are boosted by nitrate and phosphate influxes from farming and human wastes. Jellyfish also benefit from the reduction in the number of natural predators like loggerhead turtles and the bluefin tuna, which have been drastically reduced by over-fishing.

Once jellyfish are predominant, it can difficult for juvenile fish populations to re-establish that predator-prey relationship. Reduced river flows during hotter summers might also lead to increased numbers of jellyfish near the shore, as freshwater currents no longer keep the jellyfish offshore. The predominance of jellyfish and algal blooms in coastal waters and adjacent to beaches also reduces the attractiveness of tourism for those beaches.

Enclosed shallow seas such as the Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea and Black Sea are very vulnerable to warming and other climate changes. On a longer term basis, ecosystems shifts such as jellyfish and algal could be perceived as an indication that the Mediterranean Sea and region is under stress, and that the sea is becoming "tropicalised". The Mediterranean climate, typified by cool wet winters and dry hot summers, may be shifting with related impacts on terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems and biodiversity, and the economies and communities they support.

In complex ways, climate change can affect the ecological or carrying capacity of these natural ecosystems, which forms the overall basis for tourist, business and local developments in the Mediterranean and south Atlantic region. In order to allow these coastal and marine ecosystems to adapt to the climate changes that will occur, human stresses, including those caused by all these developments, need to be reduced. Among other matters, this requires an integrative and ongoing ecosystem based approach to the planning of these developments. Separate from these economic and conservation needs, coastal and marine ecosystems meet many needs for local communities such as food, transport, recreation, as well as providing cultural and historical links.

Water uses and alterations in quality and quantity

Water uses, and alterations in water quality and quantity, may be complemented and aggravated by seasonal shifts and changes in temperature and precipitation due to climate change. Many water uses in coastal communities are currently unsustainable. These water uses may reduce river flows and drain existing ground water aquifers. Climate change may further reduce these river flows, and impede the replenishment of these aquifers, even if more sustainable withdrawals are attempted. Additionally, salt water intrusion of these aquifers and estuaries will become an increasing risk as the sea level rises. This risk of saltwater intrusion is particularly great for groundwater aquifers on islands and coasts where these aquifers are already depleted.

Availability of water is already an issue in some destinations. Water is already imported to some islands in the Mediterranean, while desalination is a water source for some of the Canarias Islands, located in the south Atlantic off the coast of western Africa. In parts of the Algarve region of Portugal, there are unsustainable water uses and varying seasonal and annual precipitation. This is combined with extensive coastal developments and roads, which varies the drainage and water retention patterns. In the future, climate change is predicted to result in higher summer temperatures and less and changing precipitation patterns. So many existing water shortages may increase.

Alterations in water quality due to pollution, nutrient flows, and the disposal of storm water and sewage and other urban wastes- particularly in estuaries, bays and shallow enclosed seas- maybe augmented by climate change and changing sea surface temperature, stratification, precipitation, and circulatory patterns. This is especially true for the Mediterranean and south Atlantic regions of Europe. For example, much of the sewage and storm water from the larger settlements located on the Mediterranean Sea flows untreated or minimally treated into the sea. Additionally, nutrients and chemicals from agricultural production also enter rivers that enter the sea. For Adriatic Sea, this combination of inputs results in an eutrophic sea during parts of the year. Climate change, including increasing sea temperatures and stratification may increase the impact and extent of this eutrophication in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas, as well as other enclosed seas like the Baltic and Black Seas.

Drought, desertification and flooding

Climate change has resulted in increased forecasts of higher temperatures, as well as drought and desertification in the Mediterranean and south Atlantic regions. In the future, this may discourage tourism in the summer months, moving tourism more to other seasons or adjacent months. These and other regions of Europe are also vulnerable to changing seasonal and annual precipitation patterns, including more intense rainfall events and increased flooding at certain times of the year.

The projected temperature increases resulting from climate change for equatorial and tropical regions, and for Mediterranean and south Atlantic region are quite striking. These temperature impacts could be disproportionately felt in the summer season, and could affect these developments and destinations. Sustainable water uses will be relevant as temperatures increase, and have already been discussed.

Greater temperatures, as well as greater energy efficiencies and carbon reductions, will need to be considered for the future design of the built environment. Energy uses may have to increase in the future in order to provide cooling during the hotter summer period. Unless this energy is locally sourced or inexpensive, the economic viability of these developments and communities could be affected. Sustainable developments could iclude energy efficiency and to generate and use renewable or low carbon energy sources.

Sea level rise, storm events and erosion

Coasts, deltas, estuaries, lagoons, enclosed seas, and arctic coasts are vulnerable coastal systems that are affected by sea level rise, storm events and erosion. All these types of coastal systems need to be considered when analyzing the impacts of climate change. Some European examples are Venice and the Venice laguna, and the enclosed seas of the Adriatic, Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas. Representative examples of these vulnerable coastal ecosystems can be used as indicators of climate change, and to further understand approaches to and effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change. For the coasts, infrastructure and development, sea level rise will continue as an issue well into the future. It is interesting to note the shared and high vulnerability of lagunas, estuaries, deltas and arctic coasts to sea level rise, as well as storm surges and other extreme weather events.

Two examples are the Venice laguna and the central coastal region of Portugal. The Venice laguna, its infrastructure and its communities are very vulnerable to sea level rise and storm events, with natural and human-induced vulnerability augmented by climatic changes. Venice is not only threatened by high tides, but is sinking through subsidence, at the same time as the Adriatic Sea is rising. The surrounding marshes, which used to break the waves coming into the city, have gradually disappeared, and industrial development on the mainland has added to the increased subsidence and pollution. Venice and the Venetian laguna, of which the city is one integral part, are vulnerable to both extreme weather events and "normal" flooding, which now occurs up to 10 times in one year.

Due to the subsidence of the laguna (human induced and geological), as well as overall subsidence in the Adriatic Sea, Venice and the Venetian laguna are also vulnerable to even a 10 centimetre increase in sea level, and will be dramatically affected by a large increase in sea level. The Moses project, which is comprised of 9 barriers, was approved in 2003, is now estimated to cost more than 5 billion euros, and is designed to rise from the seabed to block the inlets of the Venice laguna from the Adriatic Sea when high tides are forecast. . One measure of the actual adaptive or preventative costs may be required to protect Venice and the overall laguna is the 5.2 billion euro projected cost of the MOSES project, which is a dike structure designed to be used to prevent tidal surges from entering the laguna. Given the sensitivity of Venice and the overall laguna to climate change, it could also be considered as a model and indicator for global impacts of climate change for lagunas and coasts.

Coastal erosion is affected by extreme weather events, which can have major and catastrophic events on certain coasts. Some changes in sediment deposit may be amplified by climate change, such as loss of sediment in storm events. In addition to extreme weather events, coasts may be erode due to changes in sediment deposit and removal due to the construction of offshore structures and alterations of rivers through dams and diversions, and resulting changes in water flows and sediment deposition. Much of the change in these sediment deposits is due to changes in water flows and damning on upstream rivers and watersheds, the removal of natural coastal habitats such as wetlands, the construction of coastal structures and defenses, and the construction of offshore structures.

The Atlantic coast in the central region of Portugal and settlements such as Aveiro and Figueira da Foz are very vulnerable to combination of climatic changes and coastal erosion, storm events, and changes in sediment deposit due to coastal dikes and groins and upstream dams. Due to its depth, and absence of replenishing sediment deposits, the Venice laguna can be impacted by shallow wave actions.

References: Muir, M.A.K., Case Study: Climate Change and European Coast and Beach Management, EU-funded CoPraNet project and website,