Galician climate change prompts investigation

13th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Drop in winds affects marine life and hits shellfish harvest

13 March 2008

SANTIAGO - Driven by mounting concerns among fishermen and environmentalists, a team of oceanographers, marine biologists and climatologists has launched a scientific investigation in Galicia in an effort to explain why Spain's northwestern region is no longer as windy as it once was.

Besides solving the climatic conundrum, the team also hopes to shed light on the link between fewer windy days in Galicia and declines in the region's prized mollusc and shellfish harvest in its famed estuaries - a situation that Xosé Antón Álvarez-Salgado, a representative of the Spanish Marine Research Institute, says has no parallels anywhere else in the world. "It's surprising," he notes.

The origin of the conundrum lies in the strong northerly winds that sweep across the region's coast in spring and summer, but which have mysteriously failed to blow as strongly or as consistently since the 1960s.

The change in the weather pattern is particularly detrimental to Galicia's fragile marine ecosystems because the northerly winds bring with them currents of cold water from the ocean's depths that are rich in plankton and other nutrients on which molluscs and shellfish feed. The result has been a 13-percent fall in the mollusc harvest in the last 40 years.

Some researchers have linked the changes to global warming, though, curiously, when winds have changed in other areas of the world that rely on similar cycles to support marine ecosystems - off the coast of Chile, California and Namibia, for example - the result has been an increase in shellfish production, rather than a decline.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / SONIA VIZOSO 2008]

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