What are the effects of environmental disasters

Natural disasters and climate change

Climate change means change for the Alpine region. Climatic changes have occurred repeatedly in the history of the Alps, sometimes to a much more dramatic extent than today. However, it is unclear in what period such changes will take place and what impact they will have on natural disasters. The AdaptAlp project is also dedicated to clarifying this question.

Climate change, the existence of which is now generally recognized, and its effects must be analyzed on a scientifically sound basis. One example of this are the regular reports of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) on changes in the global climate. On this basis, climate protection measures and adaptation strategies can be developed to counteract the effects of climate change. In any case - especially in the Alpine region - it is necessary to understand the mechanisms behind the catchphrase "climate change".

Climate models are suitable for forecasting changes in the global climate; The basis for these forecasts is provided in particular by the IPCC report and other available climate data. For the Alpine region, however, no reliable forecast is possible with the available models. Likewise, no exact forecast can be made for certain regions in the Alps about the impact of climate change on Alpine natural hazards (frequency, intensity). Ultimately, extreme values ​​and not mean values ​​are decisive for the actual extent of the risk.

The present climate scenarios for the Alpine region suggest that some natural hazards could increase in their frequency and intensity. However, the impact on individual types of danger and the extent to which the frequency and intensity of specific events will increase can hardly be predicted. In addition, all climatic factors are subject to seasonality. Numerous studies show that the season of the year must always be taken into account when it comes to the effects of climate change.

The question of how climate change will affect the use of alpine living space is of particular importance. In all likelihood, the threat of natural disasters will increase, and not just in those regions that have previously been affected by natural disasters. In the future, areas could also find themselves in danger zones that were previously considered "safe". The real consequences for those affected would be serious, the costs for the state (additional protective measures, restrictions in spatial planning) difficult to estimate.

Many experts are of the opinion that the limits of technical protection have been reached and that a rethinking process must take place in dealing with natural hazards. This raises the question of which adaptation strategies can be used to counter the consequences of climate change in the Alpine region. One of the most important instruments is the danger zone plan. In the future, this will represent the central planning instrument for spatial planning, construction and security in the Alps. Another possibility of effectively preventing future disasters is provided by early warning systems that are based on ongoing observation of changes in the natural environment (climate, geology, hydrology, vegetation) (monitoring). Ultimately, it is also necessary to improve awareness of the dangers and to adapt the behavior of each and every individual in order to keep the risk from natural disasters within tolerable limits, even in a changed natural area.

Possible consequences of climate change for natural hazards in the Alps (result of the ClimChAlp project)

  • Increase in the frequency and intensity of flood events, triggered by the increase in winter precipitation and the simultaneous increase in the snow line (higher proportion of liquid precipitation, snowmelt in combination with heavy rain) or the increase in extreme precipitation in summer (rain up to higher altitudes)
  • Increased risk of mudslides, landslides and rockfalls due to the change in vegetation cover and the decline in permafrost and glaciers at high altitudes
  • Increase in the risk of avalanches (frequency, range) due to heavy snowfalls in medium and high altitudes
  • Regional increase in drought and periods of extremely low water levels (surface water, groundwater) in summer
  • Increasing the risk of forest fires by reducing summer precipitation and drying out the soil
  • An increased risk of storms cannot (yet) be proven
  • A general trend of an increase in alpine natural disasters as a result of climate change cannot be reliably derived from the documented events