Mare cristallino

Climate change in the Mediterranean

Some studies have found a particular concentration of greenhouse gases in the “Mare Nostrum” area, several strategies are underway to contain the social economic impact.

by Maria Pia Rossignaud
07 May 2020
5 min read
by Maria Pia Rossignaud
07 May 2020
5 min read

There is increasingly less rainfall in the Mediterranean. This is the conclusion of a recent survey by the CNR (Italian National Research Council) and the Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences (ISAC) in collaboration with Reading University and Imperial College London, published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) scientific journal. The study showed that the increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Mediterranean has resulted in a substantial reduction in annual rainfall.  The Mediterranean is one of the regions most at risk for the effects of climate change and their impact is not to be underestimated.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the UN's scientific panel, shares the CNR's concern and added its own warning in the new report about climate change on the ocean and cryosphere (sea and land ice, ice at the poles and on mountains). The latest dossier put together by WWF Italy "The climate crisis in the Mediterranean:  some figures" also reports on climate change and highlights critical issues in Mediterranean regions. 

A Mediterranean far too hot

The Mediterranean is a relatively enclosed sea, with narrow straits joining the Atlantic Ocean (Strait of Gibraltar) and the Black Sea (Bosphorus Strait). Because it is shallow, its waters warm up to higher temperatures than ocean waters.

These warmer Mediterranean waters have led to a proliferation of species typically found in tropical waters. Out of around 17 thousand species, it is estimated that a thousand originated from other parts of the world, brought by boats or other human activities. These species then developed thanks to the favourable climate, in competition with native species that were already struggling with the rise in temperature.

The increase in Mediterranean's temperature could lead to the disappearance of numerous animal and marine flora species, due to lack of oxygen. If to this we add the phenomenon of acidification, a direct effect of increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), then eventually the result will be the extinction of all local coral species.

The ecomarine system crisis also has a direct effect on humans, as once marine fauna has been destroyed, fishing will no longer be an option. It is worth noting that fishing in the Mediterranean is worth around 500 billion euros a year. A reduction in fishing means less work and less fish on our plates, a consequence which will also impact our eating habits. Climate change also affects and destroys crops and food production; droughts, in particular, often cause fires leading to an inevitable destruction of crops.

From current climate models, a change in rainfall can already be observed in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, and if carbon dioxide emissions continue at current levels, the risk could also extend to Southern Italy. The scientific team involved in the research, comprising experts from various institutes, reported that an increase in greenhouse gases could intensify the changes in atmospheric circulation on a large scale, further reducing low pressure and consequently rainfall.

Coral bleaching is one of the many consequences of climate change

Research efforts

It is crucial that people and businesses understand what can be done to prevent these changes and consider which models should be adopted to avoid the current situation becoming progressively worse.

To this end, the "Paris Pledge for Action" was launched at the COP21 in Paris, a public call to action directed at investors, organisations and companies, asking them to endorse their commitment to fight the critical issues arising from climate change. 195 countries have joined the initiative, and Eni is one of the Italian signatories, determined to fully support the objectives set out in the agreement.

In line with this commitment, Eni has integrated the UN Sustainable Development Goals into its corporate mission, adopting a strategy to combat climate change that involves investment in applied research to improve technology aimed at reducing emissions, accelerate the decarbonization process and find innovative solutions to encourage the energy transition.  

In addition to the climate model for the Mediterranean Sea, an investigation examined climate models from other areas with temperate climates. These include California, which has higher rainfall due to a slower rate of global warming, and Chile, where rainfall is reducing rapidly, just as in the Mediterranean. The models also show that ocean surface warming is not uniform, with some areas heating faster than others. Those areas show changes in winter atmospheric circulation, which result in Mediterranean-type climates having lower rainfall. The research does not exclude the possibility that rainfall intensity in some Mediterranean regions may evolve in parallel with global warming over the next few centuries, or even at a faster pace, with the climate's response to CO2 emissions over time impacting the timescale and extent of its progress. This is because some aspects of climate change take place slowly over centuries, such as rising sea levels, while others have a much faster and yet contained rhythm, regulating the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Stabilising greenhouse gas emissions would therefore have both immediate and long-term beneficial effects for water resources and rainfall in regions at risk of arid summers and desertification.