The Longest River in Italy Dries Up

After months without significant rainfall, the Po River, the longest river in Italy, is experiencing record low water levels. In the Emilia-Romagna area of northern Italy, near the city of Piacenza, the Po Valley is seen in the Copernicus Sentinel-2 animation above, which demonstrates how the river drastically shrank between June 2020 and June 2022.

The huge river, which stretches from the Alps in the northwest to the Adriatic Sea on the east coast, is an essential supply of water for many areas. It provides drinking water, irrigates vast areas of farmland, and generates hydroelectricity in northern Italy.

As a result of the lack of rainfall that northern Italy has been experiencing, high temperatures, and a lack of snow in the mountains that feed the river, water levels in the Po Valley have now reached record lows. The Po River Observatory reports that several of these places have already gone dry than 110 days without even a drop of rain.

The Po River used to be a long length of murky water (as shown in the picture acquisition from June 2020), but it has since dried up and exposing vast stretches of sand (as seen in the June 2022 image acquisition).

The Po Valley, which provides around 40% of Italy's food, including wheat, rice, and tomatoes, is the most significant agricultural region in the nation. Farmers are finding it difficult to maintain agricultural irrigation due to the continuous drought, and several municipalities in the Po Valley have been instructed to limit water at night due to the dryness.

“According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture is consuming up to 70% of freshwater and considering the increasing water scarcity the use of water needs to be more efficient in this sector. For this purpose, ESA is preparing the Land Surface Temperature Monitoring Mission as part of the Copernicus Expansion Missions which will allow us to monitor the evapotranspiration of crops at a field level and, with that, support sustainable irrigation practices”, noted ESA's Sustainable Initiatives Office head Benjamin Koetz.

The Mediterranean Sea is now experiencing a marine heatwave, with temperatures in May 2022 being 4°C (7.2°F) higher than average for the 1985–2005 time period, according to new findings from the ESA-funded project CAREHeat. The results show that the surface water's temperature peaked at over 23°C (73°F).

Several Italian research organizations, including the National Agency for New Technology, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) and the National Research Council (CNR), are involved in the project, which aims to develop methods for identifying marine heat waves and evaluating their impact on marine ecosystems and economic pursuits like fishing.