Europe facing significant health and economic impacts
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Global warming is likely to increase health-related expenses in Europe by millions of dollars, as disease caused by contaminated seafood and ingestion of water-borne pathogens becomes more common.
The findings were part of a far-reaching study that looked at the results of numerous academic papers on climate change published since 1998 under the umbrella of a collaborative of European marine institutes called the Climate Change & European Marine Ecosystem Research.
The research covered topics like chemical and biological marine changes with far-reaching consequences, including sea-level rise, coastal erosion, melting ice, storm frequency and intensity, physical changes including the North Atlantic circulation system, chemical changes such as acidification and deoxygenation, changes in marine life patterns, and the ultimate impacts of all this on humans – both social and economic.
“We have amassed convincing and disturbing scientific evidence,” said Carlo Heip, director of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. “We need to communicate it much better than we have. We must all heed the clear warnings of the hazards we face from what amounts to an uncontrolled experiment on the marine environment,” said Heip, who helped compile the studies.
More specifically, a team of researchers from Italy, the UK, Germany and the USA recently found, for example, that warmer ocean water is causing a proliferation of bacteria from a genus known as Vibrio, among the most dangerous of all bacterial pathogens, which can produce serious gastroenteritis, septicemia and cholera.
Some types of the bacteria and micro-algae are linked to shellfish-associated food poisoning deaths. Others harm marine animals, including mollusks and fish, resulting in major economic and environmental impacts, according to the researchers.
Another paper discloses “an unprecedented increase in the number of bathing infections that have been associated with warm-water Vibrio species in Northwest Europe,” and a “globally-increasing trend in their associated diseases.”
The study was based on seawater samples taken near the mouth of Europe’s Rhine River and Britain’s Humber River, but the results suggest that, “the increasing dominance of marine Vibrios, including pathogenic bacterial species, may very likely occur in other areas around the world.”
An excerpt from the paper: “We provide evidence that Vibrios, including the (cholera) species, increased in dominance within the plankton-associated bacterial community of the North Sea during the past 44 years and that this increase is correlated significantly with climate induced sea surface warming during the same period. … Ocean warming is favoring the spread of Vibrios.”
Sea level rise, combined with higher waves being recorded in the North Atlantic and more frequent and severe storms, threaten up to 1 trillion Euros worth of Europe’s physical assets within 500 meters of the shore. The economic impacts could be profound because 35 percent of Europe’s GDP is generated within 50 kilometers of the shore.
Another excerpt: “Sea-level rise of 80 to 200 cm could wipe out entire countries … causing sea floods, massive economic damage, large movements of populations from inundated areas, salinity intrusion and loss of wetlands including the ecosystem services that they provide.”
More frequent and intense storms are projected for Northern Europe, especially in a band running from the south of England through northern France, Denmark, northern Germany and Eastern Europe.
Annual damages are expected to rise 21 percent in the UK, 37 percent in Germany and 44 percent across Europe as a whole, with a 104 percent rise in losses from 1-in-100 year storms.
Smaller fisheries and northward fish migrations
The research also suggests the need for Europe’s commercial fishery to reduce catches in places and make adjustments in others due to warming water, ocean acidification, and altered salinity and oxygen content.
“Some of the biggest [changes] will be required in Europe’s seas, where temperatures are rising faster than the open North Atlantic,” according to one research paper in the collection.
Another warns of possible extinction of cod stocks in the Baltic Sea and calls for “a strategy … to ensure the persistence of Baltic cod into the twenty-second century.”
In the Mediterranean Sea, a valuable shrimp fishery could collapse as rising sea temperatures slow or stop the transfer of nutrients to deep waters.
Ominously, the biggest reductions in fish populations are forecast for low-latitude regions, many of which are already impoverished and face the greatest loss of agricultural production due to increased drought and storms. Researchers say the northern migration of some fish species poses a serious food security threat for poorer tropical countries where fish often constitute the largest source of protein.
The global pattern will apply to Europe, with the southern fisheries generally losing productivity while those in the north such as Greenland, Iceland and Norway are expected to gain.