Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Deserts Of Summer

It has been quite hot recently, which is an understatement. The maximum (and this article was written on Tuesday) has been 40.5C. This was in Sa Pobla on Sunday. Sa Pobla is typically one of the hottest of weather hotspots on the island, although it doesn't enjoy (if that's the right word) the honour of having registered the all-time record. Its neighbour Muro achieved this in July 1994: the highest official temperature ever in Mallorca was 44.2C. It was that hot that on the same day - 4 July - Lluc in the mountains sweltered with 42.6C.

We are of course regaled with tall tales of current temperatures having matched Muro's record or even surpassed it. Quite probably so, if the wrong measure - direct sunlight - is taken. There can seem to be almost a desire to claim such exceptionally high temperatures as some type of badge of honour. Look, it's 45C!

Be careful what you wish for, and all that. At least in Mallorca it has never got as hot as on the mainland. Unreliable measures suggest that 50C was registered in Seville in 1876 and 1881. The more reliable ones suggest that the highest was recorded last month: 47.3C in Montoro, Cordoba. In 1994, Murcia knocked out 47.2C.

The Aemet met office, bless it, issues its long-range forecasts for the summer and is always suitably vague. This summer's effort said that the heat would be normal, that there would be the odd heatwave and that there could be a certain instability from the middle of August. Never!? Who would ever have thought that? For the record, 15 August two years ago was that bad that the Can Picafort duck swim had to be cancelled. The rain wasn't the problem; the mad state of the sea was.

The question is - what is normal? Despite the mid-August hiccup in 2015, that was a very hot summer. So was 2016. It's possible that this one could eclipse all others, and the pattern since May has been very similar to the unbearable summer of 2003, which was so hot (and not just in Mallorca and Spain) that people were expiring. Prior to 2003, one can go back to the phenomenal heatwave of 1994 and also to 1983 to find examples of very hot summers.

Because there have been exceptional summers in the past - the ones of 1876 and 1881 must have been, even if the records were unreliable - are the summers now being experienced just one of those things that nature serves up? Perhaps they are. Or perhaps not.

Mallorca is lucky in that there aren't the kind of extreme conditions in parts of the mainland. Take the area around Cartagena, for instance. That's in Murcia, with its all-time high that may or may not still be a record. The summer of 2015 produced something of an agricultural disaster; for farmers with almond trees at any rate. Thousands of trees died off not because of pest but because of the excessive heat. The trees were in effect being roasted. They are now planting less and less in the countryside around Cartagena. And what does get planted has to contend with the extremes: Murcia was more badly affected by last winter's floods than Mallorca was.

The rain was welcome, but the lack of precipitation has been evident for some twenty years. The area is becoming increasingly like a desert.

According to researchers who have had their work published in the journal Science, within seventy years from now the current desert conditions in the south-eastern part of Spain will have spread greatly. The Iberian Peninsula will be divided into two along a line from Lisbon in Portugal to Alicante in Valencia. South of this divide will be desert.

We are of course used by now to all manner of predictions as to the consequence of climate change, e.g. rising sea levels, and are also used to those who have their heads in the sands in denial. In Murcia's interior, they needn't worry about drowning  (not in summer anyway); on Murcia's coast and on the coasts of other parts of Mediterranean Spain, they should worry, if the sea rises as much as it is feared that it might.

Evidence for the advance of desert on the mainland seems irrefutable, and the national government is just one body that is stuck in the sand. There has been no update of the national action plan against desertification for ten years. It might take a while, but the seat of government may wish to reactivate this plan when it realises that temperatures in Madrid are on a par with what they are now in north Africa.

In Mallorca, there isn't such an extreme, but it is argued that the Mediterranean will warm up more than any other part of the globe because of climate change. Hot summers? Yes, and getting hotter.

No comments: