Europe's Scorching Summer

Was global warming responsible for the deadly heat?

| April 22, 2004

As the Danube goes, so goes much of Europe. The 1,800-mile-long river that flows from southern Germany to the Romanian lowlands, described by E/The Environmental Magazine's Colin Woodard as 'Europe's most magnificent waterway' was withering and dying during a heat wave of epic proportions last summer. For centuries the river served as the link between west and east, modernity and tradition. But when the Danube fell to its lowest level in more than a century last summer, temperatures in France reached 104 degrees, killing a mind-boggling 15,000. 'The heat buckled roads in Germany and forced Portugal to suspend rail traffic,' Woodard reports.

The low water levels unveiled plenty of surprises: the foundations of Budapest's ornate bridges, grasses and saplings sprouting from the mud, illegal immigrants wading from Bulgaria to Romania across the shrunken Danube. Woodard writes: 'Water levels exposed previously unseen World War II-era bombs in Budapest, tanks in Croatia, and sunken German ships. In Novi Sad, where NATO planes destroyed bridges in 1999, river traffic was blocked for three weeks because water levels had fallen so low that Serbian authorities were no longer able to open a temporary pontoon bridge.'

Scientists blame the heat wave and low water levels on global warming, though they can't prove that greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere 'cause' any certain event. 'It's not just that the water is so low this year,' Woodards quotes Janos Zlinszky of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe in Szentendre, Hungary. 'The glaciers [in the nearby Alps] are shrinking more and more every year, and there is much less snowpack to feed the rivers.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

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