Caspian Sea 2011
of soils (CEP website).
tures also increase the risk of natural disasters associated with changing environmental con- ditions. For example, in the last 30 years, mud flows in the Terek Basin in northeast Caucasus have occurred almost annually (ENVSEC 2004). Meanwhile, heavy rains during the spring of 2010 caused flooding in 20 villages surrounding the Kura River in Azerbaijan, destroying about 50,000 ha of farmland and causing an increase in numbers of internally displaced people (Eurasia News May 25, 2010). Higher winter temperatures may be attributed to changes in global climate observed in recent years. While the hypothesis of a warming trend is still under consideration, several possible conse- quences are already visible in the Caspian Sea re- gion. There has been a reduction in both the dura- tion of the ice season and in the length of winters since the winter of 1993/1994 (Kouraev 2004). This has already affected the living conditions of the Caspian seal - listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - degrading its breeding conditions (CEP 2007a).
There have been several severe droughts in various parts of the Caspian Sea region in re- cent years. These would seem to confirm scien- tific models which, in addition to higher mean temperatures, generally predict more extreme weather events. Droughts affect both crop pro- duction and the health of livestock. For exam- ple, in Turkmenistan the breeding of Karakul sheep is closely linked to air temperature. In addition to the loss of agricultural productivity, droughts can increase the frequency and sever- ity of fires, which may destroy grassland and crops (UNEP/GRID-Arendal 2006). The availability of freshwater on which many sectors of the economy – and human well-being – depend, is also linked to more remote climatic processes. If glaciers in the Caucasus and Elburz mountains recede and the periods of snow cover become shorter — as has been the case in recent years —, less water will be available for irrigation and for domestic use. Warmer mean tempera-
Caspian Sea ice extent
Minimum temperatures ºC, on average in Atyrau
-20 2001 2005 2010 Source: MED-Ingegneria analysis based on MODIS documents
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