Fighting Climate Change and Water Issues in Lithuania: No Apocalypse Upon Us

Last summer the media preached about climate change in Lithuania, citing unconfirmed and misinterpreted phenomena, related to the waters. The media had obviously used the data from the impact of climate change study, conducted by UK’s GreenMatch ‘green’ energy consulting company in 32 European countries.

Water issues
This company is not a scientific institute or a research centre – it is an ordinary organisation, selling ‘green products’ – solar batteries, boilers, insulated doors, window glass panels, etc. Undoubtedly, there should be something more to indicate the qualification of individual persons or institutions than merely academic diplomas or famous academic names. They can hardly make an impression these days – some people build interplanetary shuttles and satellites in a garage.
According to GreenMatch researchers, the greatest impact of the climate change in Europe can be felt in the Baltic States and Finland with Lithuania taking the lead. This did not go unnoticed by the local media, which immediately started trumpeting about Lithuania suffering the greatest impact of the climate change. Unfortunately, a closer look to the study, conducted by this company, revealed a lot of discrepancies, which are discussed in this article.
By the way, this useless artificial panic regarding the impact of the climate change continues not only in Lithuania, but also other countries. And it involves situations that are absolutely not funny. UK’s climate change activists are blocking the development of Heathrow Airport – the constructions of the third runway, claiming that this violates the rights of children and the future generations, which will feel the impact of the future climate change. These actions follow the wishes of the well-known environmental activist, schoolgirl Greta Thunberg from Sweden. All kinds of new waves create an excellent opportunity for someone to make some good money. Even scientists are interested in being hired to conduct some study.
We will not address the obvious issue of the global warming in this article. According to Professor Arūnas Bukantis and other hydrometeorological scientists, the annual air temperature in Vilnius keeps increasing since 1778, most intensively – since the 1990s. There are no more cold winters, no more permanent snow cover and thus – no big spring floods. We will also not discuss CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, which have truly reached an alarming level in the last three decades. This time, we will leave global issues aside. In this article we will discuss only the water issues – rainfall, water levels, floods and droughts – in Lithuania and the neighbouring countries.
The cattle effect – panic regarding climate change and its outcome – manifests in various ways. In summer 2019, various ‘writers’ attempted to claim that the purely technical drinking water supply problems in Kaunas, actually resulting from water supply maintenance works, was a result of the climate change. All kinds of articles are full of apocalyptic forecasts. The same standard quotes and threats, which involve rather big money, echo from the highest European politicians to ordinary members of the European or the local parliament.
It is not the climate change that we should fight against, but pollution. And, first of all, the air pollution that is so hard to control. We should avoid any unnecessary combustion processes, including biomass fuels, which are actively promoted as a ‘green’ solution, and polluting transport. The well-known principle ‘think globally, act locally’ applies here very well.

GreenMatch: Lithuania as the Baltic Tiger according to the climate change index
According to the GreenMatch report, the Lithuanian climate change index is 75 (out of one hundred). Estonia and Latvia fell behind by 3 points. Poland, Germany and Sweden received from 56 to 58 points. The Netherlands – 62, while the climate change in the north – Iceland and Norway – is nearly twice less noticeable than in Lithuania, evaluated with 36 and 41 points respectively.

Rainfall levels increase, but water level in the rivers decreases
According to the GreenMatch report, the rainfall level in Lithuania from 1960 to 2015 increased by 20 mm per decade. Thus, according to calculations (simple multiplication), in 5.5 decades it must have reached 110 mm, thus increasing the average annual rainfall level from 680 to 790 mm. Which must have had an impact on the river runoff – at least a quarter of this amount must have turned into runoff or increase the water level in the said rivers or at least not reduce it.
Unfortunately, this did not happen and the water content in the rivers decreased. According to the research, conducted by Professor Jūratė Kriaučiūnienė, Head of the Laboratory of Hydrology at the Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI), and her employees, the decrease in the average annual runoff of Nemunas river (the river basin covers about 2/3 of the country’s territory) has been particularly significant in the last 35 years. This tendency should continue in the future: the expected decrease in the runoff until 2035 is on average 6.5 % and in the period of 2081–2100 – up to 16.3 %. A similar and even greater decrease in the runoff is expected in Lithuania’s smaller rivers. Thus, according to hydrologists, Lithuanian territory should gradually dry out.
We should note that the set 6.5 % is also not the final number and it can be subject to fluctuations. The accuracy of the river debit measurements, a small number of the water measurement stations and other factors (e.g. ponds, restored marshes, expanding forests and urbanisation) prevent from pinpointing a precise impact of the climate change on the runoff.

The level of the Baltic Sea increases in Lithuania, but decreases on the other side of the sea!
According to the GreenMatch study, the sea level in Lithuania in 1970–2015 increased by 4.46 mm per year. That is a record-breaking number. Another simple calculation shows that in those 45 years the level of the Baltic Sea must have risen by more than 20 cm. Hydrologists from Klaipėda University (Professor Inga Dailidienė) indicate a similar number. This rise must have resulted in decreasing beach area and minimal overflows in the rainwater collection systems in Klaipėda.
However, according to the hydrological data, submitted by Juozas Šimkus, Head of the Hydrology Division at the Lithuanian Hydrometeorological Service, in 2019, the water level in the Curonian Lagoon, which connects to the Baltic Sea, has been among the lowest since 1971. Meanwhile, the situation in Finland and Sweden was the opposite – the level of the Baltic Sea decreased by 4.23 mm and 1.7 mm per year (a total of 19 cm and 8 cm in the entire period). While climatologists keep talking about melting glaciers, rising water level in the ocean and the seas, thus forecasting the loss of coastal territories.
Yet the comparison of these numbers looks very strange – both shores are washed by the very same Baltic Sea and its surface should be horizontal. The sea is like a big bowl of soup and the water levels should be distributed evenly. But, according to the above-mentioned data, the water level differences between Klaipėda and Helsinki would be nearly 40 cm. The same water level difference between Helsinki and the nearby Tallinn is an even greater mystery. Simply speaking, not only the data does not match, but the impact of the climate change on the waters of the Baltic Sea remains unclear as well.

Natural disasters – droughts and floods
GreenMatch researchers have made an assessment of the natural disasters (droughts, floods and heavy rainfall) in Europe in 1960–2019. The data was collected from the European Environment Agency, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and individual countries.
What is good, is that, upon making this assessment, GreenMatch does not relate these events to the climate change, which is atypical of the modern-day official ‘green’ opinion. The media rarely spends a day without threatening with storms, heavy rainfall, frost, heat waves or floods. Not so long ago, stories about sinking Netherlands went as far as making claims about the sea level rising to as high as one metre, which means that nearly ten million of the citizens should leave their country. While the climate change index of the Netherlands is much smaller than that of Lithuania. Thank God this apocalypse won’t get to us soon – only in 80 years. However, the money to evade it should be put forward now and appropriate European funds are already being established.
The said company also forecasts three extreme draughts in the next 60 years in Lithuania, which is located in the zone of excess humidity (thankfully, the territory has been intensively drained). Poland, where the climate is much warmer than in Lithuania, should suffer only one, Latvia – none, while the number of expected draughts in southern countries, such as Portugal and Spain, is similar to Lithuania – three and four respectively. Here, yet again, we have to question the assessment methods.
Draughts are clearly defined in qualitative indices, no matter if they happen in Lithuania or Portugal. In simple terms, an extreme draught refers to losing crops, the death of farm and wild animals, the drying of surface water ponds and being unable to reach underground water. In summer 2019, Lithuania experienced a hydrological draught, so this data will also get to the said organisation, bringing us to the lead of the above-mentioned southern countries according to the number of draughts. But the potato crop was truly plenty last summer in Lithuania. So, where is the logic? We cannot blame the meteorologists – after all, decisions are made by politicians.
In the said period Lithuania allegedly experienced 2 extreme floods, while Latvia – none. Poland, Spain and Portugal – from 14 to 30 floods. Interestingly, there is no information about floods in the Netherlands – they must be already used to them, adding them to their daily routine. And, yet again, it remains unclear, what is the definition of an extreme flood, used for the said assessment.
EU Floods Directive clearly defines high probability (once in 10 years), medium probability (once in 100 years) and low probability (once in 1000 years) floods. To illustrate the scale – the last flood, similar to the famous flood in Venice (Italy), which took place in 2019, took place 50 years ago. Its level exceeded the first level, but was quite far from the second (100-year).
In truth, the second-level floods used to take place in Nemunas nearly every 30 years from 1812to1960. While the period since then until now is completely calm, with no major floods. One of the last major floods happened in spring 1979 (a 20-year, according to frequency). That spring the flood covered low territories in Raudondvaris. Kaunas HPP could not help in any way. Yet the national media keeps reminding of ‘threatening floods’ every spring, as soon as the water level along the lagoon, usually in Rusnė, rises to its usual 40 cm above the road. As soon as the overhead road is built, these messages about floods will be forgotten.
I should mention the flood of Neris in 2010. It caused a lot of damage to Radikiai and other settlements and gardens above Kleboniškis in Kaunas district. Yet it was far from extreme and was not an outcome of the climate change. It was only medium according to its level and did not match the ones, specified in the said Floods Directive. Ice jams also caused problems in other rivers that year. The modern generation has simply forgotten about the threats of flood, bringing their constructions or other activities very close to the river beds.

What causes the discrepancies?
The data scope for the period, used by GreenMatch is simply too narrow (up to 50 years) to determine long-term natural changes. It requires at least five hundred years to determine reliable cycles and their changes. And we are talking here of former short-term, rather than long-term changes, not to mention reliable long-term forecasts. While such long-term and reliable measurement data is very scarce.
Talking of the climate change, we should remember that, besides human activity, there are also volcanoes, uncontrollable fires and other sources of pollution. A decade ago, climate change, allegedly caused by man, was acknowledged by about 85 % scientists and the number today grew to 97 %. The cattle effect manifests in all areas. There is no secret that scientists are always ready to do some researching and that somebody has to pay for it. Thus, the real scientific honesty would significantly reduce this percentage.
Interestingly, the US President Donald Trump has a contrary opinion regarding the climate change. He refers to the climate change as ‘fake’, offering to ‘reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse’.

Understanding the climate change requires knowledge of geography
Climate change activists would benefit from refreshing their school knowledge on geography and get to know some works of the famous geographer Professor A. Basalykas on the development of rivers, landscape and physical geography.
According to geologists, the territory of Lithuania and other western and northern European countries has been covered by glaciers as many as 6 times, evaporating as many times as the climate became warmer. These events are cyclical, taking place for millions or hundreds of millions of years.
The last time Lithuania was covered by ice, which is most available for analysis, began about 22–25 thousand years ago. Scientists believe that it melted and moved north about 10–15 thousand years ago. Thus, there was a climate change, definitely not caused by human activity. The retreating ice shaped the landscape of Lithuania and our rivers as we know them. And before that, due to the very thick layer of ice (estimated up to 1 km), the water of the melting ice in the western part of the country could not flow into the sea. Instead of the modern-day Nemunas, the largest river, referred to as Southern, used to flow through the valleys of Merkys towards Vistula, while Dubysa and Nevėžis used to flow towards modern-day Latvia, i.e. the opposite directions than today. That is incomprehensible to the modern-day and earlier generations.
The Earth has always been subject to change and the current warming is no exception – these processes go in cycles. Some speak of a possible cooling as well – three hundred years ago Europe experienced the ‘little ice-age’.
Getting back closer to our time, using the reliable radioactive carbon dating method, researchers of the Lithuanian Geological Service and the Institute of Geology-Geography found out that approximately 1000 years ago the mouth of Nemunas river was located near Königsberg – in Vistula Lagoon, instead of its branches – Skirvytė and Atmata, which flow into the Curonian Lagoon. This was not so long ago and without any human intervention. It is a pity that the chroniclers of the time cared more of the killing of the Catholic missionary Bruno and his companions in Lithuania, instead of hydrological data.

Professor Petras Punys
Faculty of Water and Land Management, Vytautas Magnus University Agriculture Academy
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
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