When talking about climate change and its consequences, we often talk about protection of forests or sustainable energy sources, but we rarely mention the unknown heroes that might be able to save nature and climate – rivers.
Rivers are very important ecosystems that contain various natural systems that might help them and the surrounding habitats and ecosystems. With their accompanying ecosystems they are guarding posts against the consequences of climate change and are a strong weapon for wildlife protection and people’s health, as well as building the planet’s resilience. The link between rivers and climate change can be seen from two aspects: how climate change impacts rivers and how rivers can help in the fight against climate change if we protect them.
How climate change impacts rivers:
Droughts and increased temperatures
Increased temperatures can lead to droughts, which might seriously reduce rivers’ water levels. Droughts can reduce the yield of sources or reduce the capacities of tributaries. This directly leads to reduced water in rivers, which is a threat for living organisms and thus a risk for the lives of communities which use the water for irrigation.
Inclement weather or changes in the water cycle lead to big floods that might completely change a river’s appearance, destroy riverbanks, flood surrounding ecosystems and pollute water with minerals or chemicals from farmlands nearby.
How rivers can help in the fight against climate change:
If rivers and surrounding wet habitats are properly managed and protected, they can be a shield against floods and a “sponge” that could absorb and regulate surplus water, which can be purified with the process of sedimentation and filtration through vegetation.
Provision of comfortable habitats in heatwaves
With their constant flow, rivers can provide conditions for protection in case of heatwaves. Riparian vegetation provides shade that cools the surface of the water and the environment.
Source of water
In cases of big droughts and loss of surface waters, rivers – particularly fast mountain rivers and springs – are the last source of water, both for humans and for all living organisms.