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Renewable freshwater resources under a changing climate

Climate change is a major factor influencing the availability of renewable freshwater resources. The last decades recorded a series of the hottest and driest years over the last centuries and the annual average temperature for Europe has already increased 1.6 to 1.7 °C above the pre-industrial level (EEA, 2018b). Temperature rise increases potential and actual evapotranspiration, causes more frequent extreme drought occurrences, intensifies heavy precipitation, attenuates snowpack build-up and triggers early snow melting. These effects have led to a decrease of the annual precipitation in parts of southern Europe (EEA, 2020c), which, combined with increasing actual evapotranspiration, leads to increasing water stress. In contrast, in north-eastern and northern Europe, precipitation and intensity of heavy precipitation in winter and summer increases (EEA, 2020c). Decreasing snowpack on the Alps and Carpathians and earlier snow melting in lower attitudes of the Alps are already observable, while recent summer droughts have struck areas reaching up to the Arctic circle.

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