Hot summers ahead

PORTUGAL COULD face an increasing number of scorching summers according to a British meteorological expert. More fires and more heat-related deaths will be just some of the repercussions of extreme weather conditions, claims Jean Palutikof, director of the Climate Investigation Department at East Anglia University. Palutikof predicts a global increase of between two and three degrees centigrade by the year 2100. “This can seem trivial, but the problem is that it happens in extremes,” explained the specialist, citing the example of last summer’s forest fires in Portugal.

Professor Carlos de Câmara from the Portuguese Meteorological Institute told The Resident that there had been a 0.8 degree increase in average annual temperatures in Portugal since 1931. Although he stressed such an increase could be explained by “climatic variability”, he thought it more likely that the change was as a consequence of the so-called greenhouse effect. “Hot summers are more likely to occur and there is also likely to be less rainfall in the south,” he revealed.

The professor explained that there were two ways of tackling the problem: “We can try to mitigate the causes (the greenhouse effect) by using fewer cars and more public transport and by using cleaner energy sources. Or, alternatively, we can deal with the consequences by providing more air conditioning in public buildings and homes. You also have to take action in the winter to prevent fires by reinforcing the fire-fighting and civil protection bodies as they do, rather more successfully, in Spain and France.”

In the meantime, the Assistant Secretary of State of Science and Higher Education has announced Portugal’s participation in a world project, operational from 2007, which will monitor sea levels. ‘Satellite Jason 2’ will be launched at the end of 2005 and the data that it will provide may reap badly needed financial dividends for the cash-strapped Portuguese Meteorological Institute. According to the president of the Institute, Aderito Serrão, a further 60 staff, including meteorologists and observers, are needed.

The problems at the Meteorological Institute have not gone unnoticed by weather watchers. A leading Portuguese daily newspaper claims that Algarve fishermen prefer to watch Spanish weather bulletins on TV owing to “the poor quality” of information in Portugal, observing that the Spanish weather bulletins are more complete.

Professor de Câmara acknowledged there was a funding crisis at the Institute but said that The Ministry of Science had agreed to bolster their equipment. “Our role is to monitor all climactic fluctuations. We have a huge network throughout the country – a total of 92 stations, but we are somewhat short of staff and equipment,” he conceded.