According to a study by UAB to determine the effects of climate change on the Ebro Delta, the reduction in river sediments has until now been the most threatening factor for its integrity. Nevertheless, the increase in sea level, foreseen for the following decades as one of the most important consequences of the climate change, will have serious effects on the region's agriculture, natural resources, tourism and industry. Researchers propose a combination of a greater inflow of sand to the dunes and the natural transport of sediments as the best option available to protect the delta.
Sandra Fatorić and Lorenzo Chelleri, scientists at Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona, studied the vulnerability of the Ebro Delta to environmental changes, especially in relation to climate changes. They identified which were the main threats and investigated possible solutions to adapt to the new conditions.
The environment and population of the Ebro Delta face a very uncertain future. In fact, it is one of the most important river systems of the Mediterranean and, as most other deltas, is subject to a considerable amount of human impact. Therefore, the integrity of this coastal region suffers from both human pressure and the future effects of climate change, prone to provoking a major environmental degradation, an important risk for social cohesion, quality of life, and safety for the future.
According to UAB's analysis, the rise in sea level, one of the most important consequences of climate change, will have serious effects in terms of agriculture, natural resources, tourism and industry on the Ebro Delta, which is already vulnerable due to the low level of sediment inflow. These sediments have reduced drastically mainly because of the regulation of rivers, and has affected the coastline, leaving it near sea level. The research reveals that this could cause more flooding in the nearby communities.
The rise in sea level produces other severe effects, such as the intrusion of sea water and erosion to the coastline, which in the future could lead to a greater loss in habitable and cultivable land, as well as in damage to the ecosystems.
The study shows that until now the management of resources, principally that of rice monoculture and dam constructions, has affected the area of the delta more than hydro-climatic factors. These factors are accelerating current tendencies, such as coastal erosion and intrusion of salt water, and can have serious effects for the agriculture, natural resources and tourism.
Through surveys among inhabitants of the Ebro Delta working closely in environmental and economic processes researchers documented the perception and opinions of this community on possible practical solutions. Participants shared their views on the current situation of the Ebro Delta, together with their ideas and options to adapt to the climate change of the future.
Based on the results of the study, the best option to protect and adapt the Ebro Delta to the effects of climate change would be an inflow of sand to preserve existing dunes and create new ones, as well as swamps, which would be most respectful with nature. Part of the community is also in favour of the construction of underwater dams to prevent the entrance of salt water, or the option of raising the surface level of the delta. The research shows a large variety of opinions with regard to the construction of artificial barriers, which in the past few years has been the most disputed option and the one recommended by 29% of participants. The option of abandoning the area, an idea posed by experts, was not accepted by any of the participants of the survey.
Based on the results of the research, UAB scientists Fatorińá and Chelleri offer a combined solution of bringing in more sand to the dunes and natural transport of sediments as the best option to protect the Ebro Delta from the effect of climate change.
Sandra Fatorić, Lorenzo Chelleri, "Vulnerability to the Effects of Climate Change and Adaptation: the case of the Spanish Ebro Delta", Ocean Coastal Management, Volume 60, May 2012, Pages 1-10, ISSN 0964-5691