Scientists have found that two-thirds of Earth’s largest river delta regions are experiencing sinking land and rising seas. Researchers combined historical measurements of sea-level rise with new data from satellite imagery to determine how fast delta land is sinking, or compacting. These conditions increase the likelihood of flooding, which could endanger hundreds of millions of people in these densely populated areas. One major delta facing a high degree of risk is the Rhone in southern France, on the Mediterranean coast. The Rhone is one of two threatened deltas in Europe.
Rivers naturally deposit sedimentary layers in the deltas they feed, which gradually builds up the land. But many delta regions are in fact subsiding, partly due to human activities. Damming and diversion of rivers upstream holds back the sediment that would ordinarily build up. Another contributing factor is subsurface mining. For example, over the 1900s, methane mining caused Italy’s Po Delta to subside about 12 feet. The mining of oil and gas and the extraction of groundwater—for drinking, industry, and agriculture—are also speeding the pace of compaction.
Under the scenarios that scientists envision, ocean levels are expected to rise due to moderate climate change. Asia will be the worst hit; 6 of the 11 most vulnerable deltas are in Asia, 3 in China alone. Estimates predict sea levels could rise as much as a meter by the end of the 21st century. Flooding may affect large areas in delta regions, if storms and hurricanes become more intense.
- “Millions at Risk” as Deltas Sink
This article highlights the threats to human populations in areas of sinking river deltas; includes a list of the highest-risk category.
(Source: BBC, September 21, 2009)
- That Sinking Feeling: World’s Deltas Subsiding, Says Study
This article describes the changes affecting major river deltas; includes a Google map of France and links to related stories.
(Source: AFP, September 20, 2009)
- EUROSION Case Study: Rhone Delta (France)
This pdf is a case study from circa 2002 on the ongoing human attempts to manage the erosion of the Rhone Delta; includes photos, graphs, and diagrams.
(Source: Eurosion; accessed September 30, 2009)
- Map of Floods in Southern France
Map of Southern France (Before Floods)
These NASA satellite images of southern France show the area of the Rhone Delta on the Mediterranean coast, before and after recent flooding.
(Source: NASA Visible Earth)
Other Issues in the Region
Turmoil in the Balkans
After the former Yugoslavia split into six republics (Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia), separatists in the province of Kosovo launched their own bid for independence. Following the outbreak of hostilities between Serbia and the guerrilla-style Kosovo Liberation Army, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic launched a military crackdown in Kosovo. A flood of refugees and reports of widespread atrocities by Serbian forces led to charges that Serbia was trying to rid the province of ethnic Albanians. In 1999, NATO flew air strikes against Serbia until Milosevic agreed to withdraw his troops. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to step down after losing an election in 2000. He died in jail in 2006 while on trial for war crimes related to Serbian actions in Kosovo and Bosnia.
- Kosovo Marks Independence Day
On February 17 Kosovo celebrated the one-year anniversary of its declaration of independence from Serbia. Despite the celebration, Serbia still refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, and parts of the country remain divided.
(Source: BBC, February 17, 2009)
Cleaning Up Europe
Pollution of the air and waterways is a serious problem in Europe. The pollution comes from many sources, including business, industry, the farming community, and ordinary citizens who use and discard household products. All of these individuals and groups must now work together to find a solution, improve conditions, and prevent further damage.
- Emissions of air pollutants down in EU-27
The annual report of the European Environment Agency shows pollution levels in the European Union were lower in 2007 than in the previous year: emissions of the three main pollutants that cause ground-level ozone—carbon monoxide (CO), nonmethane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—all were down substantially, as were levels of sulphur oxides (SOx).
(Source: European Environment Agency, August 21, 2009)
The European Union has its origins in 1951, when France and what was then West Germany signed a treaty with four other nations creating the European Coal and Steel Community. Subsequent treaties involved more nations, leading eventually to the signing of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union. Differences in size and power among EU members and candidates have created problems in expanding the EU, most notably in drafting a constitution. But both old and new member countries are cautiously optimistic about unification.
- FACTBOX: EU Steps Up Pace on Financial Regulation
In the wake of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, the European Union began adopting new policies to regulate certain financial industries, such as credit providers, insurance companies, and banks.
(Source: Reuters, April 21, 2009)