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Drought in Switzerland, the ‘water tower of Europe’
With recent years showing that even Switzerland is not immune to water shortages, researchers at WSL have been working on many projects relating to drought. How can critical periods of drought be detected in good time and how does drought affect forests and other ecosystems?
Switzerland may be known as the ‘water tower of Europe’, but from time to time – as was clearly shown by the summer of 2003 and the spring and the autumn of 2011 – this country too experiences water shortages. Low levels of groundwater and water level in waterways and lakes and dried-out soil led to problems for many consumers, especially the agricultural and forestry sectors, and also the water, fisheries, shipping and tourist industries.
As a result, drought became a focus of attention for research. WSL researchers across many projects are looking for answers to questions such as to what extent critical periods of drought can be detected at an early stage, how drought affects forests and other ecosystems, and how scarce water resources can be sustainably managed. To this end, they are cooperating closely with partners including Switzerland‘s Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss), the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), Agroscope (the Swiss Federal Agricultural Research Station), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) and other research institutions in Switzerland and abroad.
National Research Programme NRP 61
NRP 61 (Sustainable Water Management) is working out basic principles and methods for sustainable management of water resources. This programme has seen WSL, with the support of the FOEN and MeteoSwiss, developing the information platform drought.ch (in German). This platform provides water consumers with a wide range of drought information, data and forecasts, indicating the volume of water in Swiss rivers, the precipitation deficit and the soil moisture and also the drought level in forests.
Forests and climate change
As part of the joint WSL/FOEN Forests and Climate Change research programme, WSL researchers, spread across many projects, are investigating how drought and other possible consequences of climate change are affecting forests. The fundamental knowledge gained will help the stakeholders – the forestry services, business leaders, forest owners and political decision-makers – to be able to accurately assess climate risks and forests’ ability to adapt and where required take effective adaptation measures.