After a dry winter, how does Portugal learn to live with drought?

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So far this year, it has barely rained in Portugal, with 95% of the country facing severe or extreme drought conditions. Farmers are on the front lines of this climate change trend, and in this episode of Climate Now we look at how they are doing, what technologies they can use to make the most of the water they have, and hear from the gloomy prospects for the decades to come.

To start, our regular roundup of the latest data from the Copernicus service on climate change.

Hot February in Europe

February 2022 in Europe was 2.4 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1991 to 2020 average.

The temperature anomaly map confirms this figure, with Europe and much of Russia shaded in red, indicating warmer than average temperatures.

But it was quite a different story from Alaska to Greenland and all the way to Texas in the United States, where temperatures were in some cases well below the February average.

In Antarcticait’s the end of summer and the sea ​​ice reached its second lowest monthly average on record. Around the continent, there was 0.9 million square kilometers less sea ice than average in February.

Portugal plagued by prolonged drought

In Portugal, 95% of the country is now facing severe or extreme drought due to dry conditions that have hit the whole of the Iberian Peninsula this winter.

This means that farmers face an extremely difficult growing year.

So how do they adapt? Euronews traveled to eastern Portugal to meet farmer José Maria Falcāo, who showed us around his farm, called Torre Das Figeuiras.

Our first stop is a field of bright green barley – to the untrained eye it may look perfectly healthy, but José Maria told us he could already see that the plants were suffering from a lack of water. The barley should normally be taller, thicker and have longer roots, but it has been weakened by lack of rain and succumbs to a fungal infestation:

“It’s typical when the plant is weak. When it needs to grow and wants all the bad to happen to it, like a sick, malnourished person who gets sick much more easily,” José Maria explained.

You don’t have to be an experienced farmer to see that the big irrigation tank on your farm is almost empty. The reason is simply a lack of rainfall: José Maria recorded about 10 millimeters of rain in January and February, compared to 200 millimeters at the same time last year.

For now, his olives, pomegranates, almonds and other crops are irrigated with water from a nearby river. José Maria has the necessary permits to use these sources, but he knows that the supply cannot be guaranteed later in the year and that the cost of pumping water a hundred meters upstream will only increase. with rising energy prices.

The impact of global warming

At the Portuguese weather service IPMA, climatologist Vanda Pires says global warming is playing a part in the drought they are seeing this year.

The past two decades have not only been warmer on average in Portugal, but they have also been the driest since records began. This means that droughts are now more frequent and exceptionally wet years are rarer.

This IPMA figure showing rainfall anomalies since 1930 compared to the 1971-2000 average shows how much droughts have increased since the early 1990s.

Vanda Pires told Euronews that this trend will continue. “At the end of this century, projections indicate a decrease in rainfall across the country. These differences could be rainfall losses of 15% to 20% in the north and 30% to 40% in the southern region, this which is quite significant,” Vanda said. noted.

Back at the farm, José Maria shows us the computer-controlled irrigation system, soil moisture probes and growth sensors he uses to keep his almond trees alive and productive. He has a total of 48 soil probes on his 2,200 hectare farm and regularly consults data from the Sentinel satellite fleet to probe his land.

“I can’t trust my eyes, looking I can’t see anything. I have to look underground to see where the moisture is. And that’s how I can manage a crop that needs a lot of water. water with very little water.”

This faith in technology and data is echoed by irrigation expert Gonçalo Rodrigues – who says we need to deploy all the tools possible to better manage the water we have.

“We have to accept this as a way of being, a way of life and adapt as best we can to this reality in which we live,” he explains.

Rodrigues asserts that “the use of soil water monitoring sensors, weather stations, plant sensors, satellite images, drone images” is what is really needed to “understand the behavior of our cultures”.

“We must learn and make the best use of available technologies to be increasingly efficient and effective,” he concludes.

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