Parts of the world are now experiencing droughts that haven’t been seen in 1,200 years

(ORDO NEWS) — Parts of Portugal and Spain are now experiencing their driest weather in a thousand years due to a climate change-driven high-pressure atmospheric system, a study released Monday warned of serious consequences for wine and olive production.

The Azores high pressure, a clockwise rotating high pressure region over parts of the North Atlantic, has a significant impact on weather and long-term climate trends in Western Europe.

But in a new modeling study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, US scientists found that this high-pressure system “has changed dramatically over the last century, and that these climate changes in the North Atlantic are unprecedented over the last millennium.”

Using climate modeling over the past 1,200 years, the authors of the study found that this high-pressure system began to grow and cover a large area about 200 years ago, when greenhouse gas pollution began to increase.

In the 20th century, it expanded even more due to global warming.

The authors then examined hundreds of years of rainfall records preserved in Portuguese stalagmites and found that as the Azores Rise expanded, winters in the western Mediterranean became drier.

The study cites projections that rainfall could fall another 10-20% by the end of this century, making the Iberian Peninsula’s agriculture “one of the most vulnerable in Europe,” according to the authors.

They warn that the Azores will continue to expand over the 21st century as greenhouse gas levels rise, increasing the risk of drought in the Iberian Peninsula and jeopardizing key crops.

“Our findings have important implications for predicted changes in the Western Mediterranean hydroclimate over the course of the 21st century,” the authors said.

Wilting vines

According to the study, the Azores act as a “gatekeeper” for rainfall in Europe: dry air sinks in the summer months and causes hot, dry conditions across much of Portugal, Spain and the western Mediterranean.

During cooler, wetter winters, the high pressure system swells, sending westerly winds that carry rain inland.

These winter rains are “vital” to the ecological and economic health of the region, but they are declining, especially in the second half of the 20th century.

Although previous studies have failed to elucidate the effect of natural variability on the Azores, the authors said their findings indicate that its expansion during the Industrial Age is associated with rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The study cited by the authors says that the area suitable for growing grapes in the Iberian Peninsula could be reduced by at least a quarter, and by 2050 almost completely disappear due to severe water shortages.

Meanwhile, researchers predict a 30 percent drop in olive production in Spain’s southern regions by 2100.

Winemakers are already looking for ways to adapt to the changing climate, such as moving vineyards to higher altitudes and experimenting with more heat-tolerant varieties.

Last year, scientists found that the hard spring frosts that devastated vines in France have become more likely due to climate change, with plants blooming earlier and therefore more susceptible to damage.

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