Adaptation in Carpathian Mountains


Impacts & Vulnerabilities

The climatic variability will most likely be increased. The region's high vulnerability to climate change is presented further below for six sectors: water resources, forestry, wetlands, grasslands, agriculture and tourism. This section briefly presents observations and scenarios for climate change in the Carpathian region and is based on the outcomes of the previously mentioned research projects.


Observations and projections

Changes in temperature
Overall the outcomes of the studies show a mixed picture of climate change impacts with high spatial variability and uncertainty. In general, an increase in the annual temperature of 1.1-2.0°C over the last 50 years is observed. A further increase with 3.5 in the north western part to 4.5°C in the south towards the end of the century is expected. The change in winter maximum is less pronounced than the change in summer maximum.
Changes in precipitation and water resources
Analyses of the trends in the CARPATCLIM Project (1961-2010) show that precipitation changes are dispersed with an increase of 300-400 mm annually in the north and decrease of 100-150 mm annually in the south regions. Although the mean annual values of precipitation do not show a very clear trend, summer precipitation is projected to reduce by 20%, whereas winter precipitation is projected to increase in most areas by 5 - 20 % by the year 2100. A shortened period of snowfall is projected.
The change in average runoff values for the dry months is between a 4% increase and a 19% decrease until 2050. Overall, a decline in total annual river discharge is predicted for southern and eastern parts of the Danube basin, while western and northern parts might experience increases. In particular, southern parts of Hungary and Romania as well as the Republic of Serbia, are expected to face severe droughts and water shortages. Groundwater recharge is likely to be reduced, whilst more frequent droughts in summertime will reduce low flows and result in water shortages. There may be impacts on the quantity and quality of drinking water for communities dependant on mountain streams.
Annual water temperature is projected to change by 1.7˚C between 1971–2000 and 2021–2050. Projections of average water temperature change in the summer months reach 4˚C or above. In addition, the number of days with extreme water temperature (>28˚C) increases. This would have definite impacts on aquatic ecosystems. There is clear spatial variation in the identified climate-induced trends in thermal and runoff conditions, and consequently in the impacts on aquatic ecosystems. While the northern part of the Carpathian region is insignificantly or moderately affected, the southern part is expected to be highly affected. Periods when ecological water demands will not be met will increase, leading to damage to aquatic and riparian ecosystems. At the same time, increasing wintertime flows will likely exacerbate existing flood issues.

Sectoral impacts and vulnerabilities

The changes in climate variabilities will influence various sectors. In the frame of the research projects that have been carried out the impacts on forest, grassland and wetland ecosystems have been analysed as well as the impacts on the forestry, agriculture and tourism sectors.
Impacts on ecosystems

The impact of climate change on forest ecosystems is depending on the forest type, altitude and species composition. Recently, forest damage in the Carpathian region has increased. Wind damage followed by insect pest outbreaks, outbreaks of defoliating insects as well as the effects of drought have been observed to compromise the stability of Carpathian forest ecosystems and the sustainability of forest ecosystem services. Changes in the precipitation and temperature patters will lead to the loss of forest biodiversity. As most of the Carpathian forests are managed, the rate of projected changes will depend to a large extent on forest management, and human support to inherent adaptation mechanisms.

An increase in drought conditions will result in a decline in beech forests. At lower altitudes when drought becomes the limiting factor oak is more competitive than beech and will gradually replace beech. The vulnerability to climate change of beech forests is considered moderate to high. An increase in temperature may be beneficial for beech growth where precipitation is sufficient and at the upper altitudinal limit of beech; at the upper altitudinal limit however an increase in storm events may cause increasing damage. Drought-tolerant sessile oak forests will likely increase in their extent in areas of land abandonment. Vulnerability to climate change is moderate. Species are generally adapted to drier conditions; increased drought stress increases vulnerability to insect (e.g. oak processionary moth) and pathogen (e.g. root decline) damage; extended droughts may be problematic for some species.

Spruce needs to be thought of as highly vulnerable species. Climate change is likely to create an additional pressure on decrease of spruce population, except in the highest elevations where spruce occurs naturally.

Impacts on wetlands

The Carpathian wetlands are very sensitive to natural as well as anthropogenic pressures. The most likely impacts related to surface water resources will include more frequent flooding, longer periods of drought, an increase in water temperature, which will in turn indirectly contribute to deteriorating water quality, limitation of ground water recharge, spread of invasive species, disconnection of functional habitats, as well as harming overall river integrity. The decrease of precipitation in the southern part will lead to less water available for the wetlands in this area and can lead to drying out and the loss of wetland related biodiversity. Projections for average water temperature in summer reaches an increase of 4° C or above, which is expected to have definite impacts on aquatic ecosystems in the form of a decline in temperature-intolerant and oxygen-intolerant species, algae blooms, etc. The more frequent expected extreme high values for water temperature affect aquatic biota directly by exceeding species thermal tolerance, as well as indirectly through the deterioration in oxygen conditions.

Reduced snow cover, heavy rains caused by an increased climate variability, and changes in precipitation patterns are projected to alter river dynamics and increase the risk of flash floods. The most vulnerable wetland habitats are peatlands; less water means that these will disappear.

Impacts on grasslands

Carpathian grasslands are among the richest grassland biotopes in Europe. Under recent conditions management regimes have more impacts on grasslands in the Carpathians than climate change, however those regimes influences the responsiveness capability of grasslands to climate change. Temperature increases, more extreme droughts and floods, soil erosion and an upward shifting tree line combined with the abandonment of these grasslands are all expected to reduce grassland quality and coverage, leading to habitat fragmentation and loss of species.

Grasslands will be negatively affected by the climbing tree line. Climate change has resulted in warmer summer temperatures over the Carpathians, which are especially favorable for trees at upper elevations. A decrease of mountain meadow areas and rise of tree lines has been observed from the early decades to the end of the 20th century, mostly by coniferous species at upper elevations. Changes in species composition occur rather because of the appearance of 'new' species than because the intolerance of 'original' grassland species to climate change. As the changes proceed, species diversity may get higher in the first years (when the 'old' and 'new' species are present), but then it decreases as the new species taking over the habitats. Productivity is likely to follow the same pattern.

Impacts on Forestry

The negative impacts of climate change can lead to potential losses in quality and quantity of raw materials for the timber industry in the region, as well as to the deterioration of other forest functions listed above. Further negative impacts of climate change on forests include droughts leading to increased water stress, which in turn results in decreased natural and economic yields of natural growth forest systems (beech, hornbeam-oak, oak groves). Apart from negative impacts, climate change can also contribute to increased forest production under specific circumstances. Increasing mean temperature combined with increased CO2 concentration speeds up photosynthesis in most temperate tree species. However this only occurs if water supply, light and nutrient supply do not emerge as a limiting factor. Increasing temperatures and higher incidences of drought will lead to shifts in species composition, especially at lower altitudes towards more drought-resistant tree species. More frequent and increased drought stress can increase pests and pathogenic damages, as well as damage from fire. The tree-line will move upwards, and the occurrence of species will migrate up- and northwards.

Some species and communities might collapse as a result of these shifts especially where connectivity and ecological corridors are limited. Particularly vulnerable species include spruce at lower altitudes, beech, maple, oak and lime. Increased soil erosion will add to the risk of landslides in lower mountain areas. In general the lower elevation forests, mainly in south Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Serbia are especially prone to drought and temperature rise. The Ukrainian Carpathians and Polish part of the Outer Eastern Carpathians were rated at moderate to low vulnerability.

Impacts on Agriculture

A warmer climate may lead to an increase in the northern range over which crops such as soya and sunflowers may be grown and potential increases in yield from the longer growing season may be expected. Agriculture may become feasible at higher altitudes. In some parts of the Carpathians maize and wheat yields of the current varieties will decline, whilst elsewhere sunflower and soya yields might increase due to higher temperatures and migration of these crops’ northern limit. Likewise, winter wheat is expected to increase. In general a shift during spring planting towards winter crops will be possible. Unfortunately, vulnerability to pests is predicted to rise, and decreasing productivity are also expected as a result of soil erosion, groundwater depletion, and extreme weather events.

Impacts on Tourism

Tourism will experience both positive and negative impacts from climate change. Ecotourism, summer tourism, health tourism and vocational tourism can be positively influenced by climate change. Rising temperatures in summer both in the Carpathians and elsewhere, for example the Mediterranean, can bring more tourists to the mountains for comfortable temperatures. On the other hand, the possibilities of winter sport will become more limited. Projections of snow duration and depth indicate significant change for the coming 50 years. However, as tourism in the Carpathians is presently very diversified, only a small part of the visitors depend on the snow availability.

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