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Po River dries up

Italy’s longest river is hitting record-low water levels after months without heavy rainfall
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Po River running through cultivated fields

Water in the Po Valley has now dropped to record-low levels, following an absence of rainfall in northern Italy alongside high temperatures and a lack of snow in the mountains that feed the river.

Many of these areas have now been without any rain at all for more than 110 days, according to the Po River Observatory at the European Space Agency (ESA).

Agriculture in the Po Valley

Stretching from the Alps in the northwest to the Adriatic Sea on the east coast, Italy’s vast Po River is a vital source of water for several regions.

It is used for drinking water and nourishing vast swathes of agricultural land, as well as producing hydroelectric power across northern Italy.

The Po River is normally a wide stretch of murky water, but has now dried up with large expanses of sand exposed.

The Po Valley is the most important agricultural area in the country, as it produces around 40% of Italy’s food including wheat, rice and tomatoes.

With the ongoing drought, farmers are struggling to keep crops irrigated and many towns in the Po Valley have been asked to ration water during the night amidst the drought.

‘According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture is consuming up to 70% of freshwater and considering the increasing water scarcity the use of water needs to be more efficient in this sector.

‘For this purpose, ESA is preparing the Land Surface Temperature Monitoring Mission as part of the Copernicus Expansion Missions which will allow us to monitor the evapotranspiration of crops at a field level and, with that, support sustainable irrigation practices.’

Head of ESA’s Sustainable Initiatives Office

The Mediterranean heatwave

According to new results published by an ESA-funded project called CAREHeat, the Mediterranean Sea is currently enduring a marine heatwave with temperatures in May 2022 4°C higher than the average for the 1985-2005 period.

According to the findings, the surface water temperature hit peaks of over 23°C.

The project, which features the participation of Italian research agencies such as the National Agency for New Technology, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and the National Research Council (CNR), seeks to develop strategies to identify marine heat waves and determine their effect on marine ecosystems and economic activities such as fishing.

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