Consequences of Global Warming in the South Caucasus region

global warming cows livestock armenia

On Monday 4th October, the very first ethnic Armenian, Ardem Patapoutian, won a Nobel Prize in Medicine. The entire Armenian nation will now see the greatest scientific award in a different light… with the feeling of being more “involved” in Great Science, and a well deserved immense pride after decades of Armenian scientists and engineers being unfairly underestimated (Hambartsoumian, Markarian, Damadian….).

One day later, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists including jointly to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann "for the physical modelling of Earth's climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.”

This Nobel prize can be seen as yet another warning from the scientist community to the world to raise the concern of the public for the threat of Global Warming.

Before that, in 2007, the GIEC, along with former US Vice President Al Gore, received the Nobel Peace prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

The COP26 (the 26th United Nation Climate Change Conference), which has just ended in Glasgow, has brought together world leaders and scientists for two weeks...and did not deliver good news, foreseeing complicated future hazards.

As with the previous COP, all the texts signed by leaders remain only goals and intentions, not binding agreements and are thus, strongly dependent on the local crises each country will face… None of the big CO2 producers, foremost China and India, want to carry out costly energy transitions in order to reduce their emissions.

Global warming is a reality, it has been known and scientists have been warning us for decades, but these warnings were skillfully silenced by different lobbies and the ignorance of political leaders, but nowadays it can no longer be avoided, denied, or understated to the public eye.

Climate change is evident in almost all aspects of climate: Constant rise of the mean temperature around the globe, rising seas level, reduction of ice sheets volume in the Arctic, Greenland and glaciers here and there, statistical increase of meteorological extreme events (tornadoes, heavy rains, heat waves,...)....

The list is very long.

The consequences of global warming are here, and they are here for decades to come. We can sum it up for the Southern Black Sea area (Greek peninsula and Anatolia) and Caucasus with this simple statement: more hot weather and fewer rainwater.

We will have to cope with them, especially as the goal of limiting the global warming increase to +1.5°C becomes unrealistic. The current trend points towards +2.5°C, regardless of the good will and press releases of most delegations. Some countries don’t want to lose any places in the run for power.

The northern hemisphere suffers much more from global warming, with actual thermic anomaly reaching up to +6°C compared to the end of the 19th century, especially in the arctic, Eurasia and Canada see the mean temperatures significantly increasing.

The actual situation presents a very inhomogeneous temperature change around the globe.

global warming map 1882 med hr

Armenia, due to its size, industrial and human activity does not contribute significantly to CO2 production, accounts only for 0.01% of the global emissions in the world, the other countries on the south Caucasus have correlated production, and changing their CO2 emission policy won’t change the global trend but can achieve numerous local improvements.

In any case, as usual, prediction of upcoming problems could help these countries to minimize their consequences.

Firstly we need to identify what the known future trends for the south Caucasus and Black Sea area are, and even a little further, as the scientific world community has enough feedback and can rely on robust measurements and modelling.

Precipitation is predicted to change drastically in the Caucasus area with about 20% less average rainfall expected especially during spring and summer. This trend extends all around the Mediterranean area which is densely populated, bringing huge water management problems with unexpected and dramatic consequences.

“Voski tapigor” (it is falling gold) used to say my grandfather when it rained, nowadays people fight for fresh water. This conflict for water is expected to heighten within the near future, as the densely populated area around the Mediterranean Sea will likely suffer from water shortage.

Maps of predicted future precipitation based on global circulation models.
Source: Earth Observatory.

Since the early 2000s the trend clearly shows drastic increase in mean temperature and decrease in term of average rainfall for Armenia:

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The consequences of both effects in small areas with limited alternatives can be critical, with large impacts especially on agriculture. Only one example is the production of wines that have started to become well recognized and appreciated all around the world, following the longest tradition in the world of wine making in the world.

For instance, with higher temperature grapes produce more sugar, consequently increasing the rate of alcohol after fermentation, covering all the delicacy and perfumes of the wine.

A deficit of water from rainfall will force us to dig deeper and deeper to access groundwater. The Sevan Lake could also come under huge stress due to reduced rainfalls as it supplies directly many downstream small hydro power plants and agriculture fields.

Water management is at risk of becoming a critical issue for the decades to come… The sooner Armenia will handle this problem, the better we will be able to cover the needs of the population.

A good way to ease water management especially from Sevan Lake or any other big lake in the south Caucasus, feeding most of the downstream irrigation, would be to better control small hydro power plants, and maybe complement some of them with solar panels or wind turbines wisely located to overcome the losses from hydro power plants.

Planting trees could help to control local temperature, especially in cities, as they produce shadow during hotter and hotter summer and reduce evaporation of the soils elsewhere. In other areas, they also retain water from draining, avoiding erosion of the soils.

Close to Armenia, the Caspian Sea, the biggest inland salty water lake in the world, in industrial exploitation for more than a century, is also in great danger, and could unfortunately meet the same dramatic fate as the Aral Sea, which has almost disappeared now.

Increasing water evaporation of this closed sea, along with slightly decreasing water fed by the Volga, induced an observable water level loss these last years.

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Source: AGU Publications

The decreasing water level, along with the coming ecological disaster, starts to bring also technical problems for the offshore exploiting platforms, with necessary costly updates and reconstructions necessary.

Since 1995, the Caspian Sea has lost about 2m, and by the end of the 21st century, the water level decrease is expected to reach 10 to 20m, restraining many navy and harbour activity, and of course the fishing industry.

The Garabogazköl area, in the eastern part of the Caspian Sea, could fully and definitely disappear, as it did between 1984 and 1992.

The entire northern part of the Caspian sea is slowly drying up.

Oil and gas industry will also change a lot from these water losses, as some rich areas in gas and oil in the northern part will become easier to get.

Off Baku, the oil platforms will soon have to adapt to the constant decrease of the water level, at huge cost.

As Southern Caucasus countries being in development, with critical geostrategic problems, we cannot offer all state of the art technology to deal with Global Warming, even though no country in the world will smoothly live this evolution.

Nonetheless, the more people and leaders will have a good overview of the forthcoming hazards, the sooner we will be able to handle them, the better we will cope with them.

Author: Robert DANIELIAN is a French-Armenian physicist graduated from Sorbonne University.

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Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor