Doñana National Park gets temporary relief from drought •

Doñana National Park gets temporary relief from drought

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the picturesque wetlands of Spain’s Doñana National Park, This vital ecosystem, located in the Andalusia region, has received some long-awaited rainfall after enduring years of severe drought conditions. 

A significant increase in rainfall in March 2024 brought temporary relief to this UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, known for its rich biodiversity and critical role as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

A decade of drought in Doñana National Park

For over a decade, Doñana National Park has faced below-average rainfall levels, with the situation worsening significantly in the past three years. These years have recorded some of the lowest annual precipitation totals, compounded by unusually high temperatures across the country. 

The effects of climate change were starkly visible in January 2024, which was noted as Spain’s warmest January since records began, with temperatures averaging 2.4 degrees Celsius higher than normal.

The first quarter of 2024 continued this trend, potentially marking it as the warmest first quarter since 1961. The prolonged drought has had a devastating impact on the park’s ecosystem, drying up marshes and affecting both flora and fauna.

Welcome change in the weather

The heavy rains that arrived in late March 2024 have momentarily brought some relief to the region. Satellite images acquired by the OLI on Landsat 8 and the OLI-2 on Landsat 9 showed significant changes in the landscape by April 9, 2024. 

The featured image shows that marshes have been replenished and ponds have been temporarily filled, contrasting sharply with the desolate conditions observed just a year earlier.

A weather station in the park recorded 145 millimeters of rainfall in March 2024, making it the second-wettest March on record. Since the start of the water year in September 2023, the area has received over 400 millimeters of rainfall, surpassing the totals of each of the last three full water years. Despite this increase, the precipitation still falls short of the historical yearly average of more than 500 millimeters.

Ecological responses and challenges

The western part of the park is home to thousands of small, shallow pools known as Mediterranean temporary ponds, which naturally experience cycles of flooding and drying. Following the recent rains, several of the largest ponds flooded, as did marsh areas farther inland, though some regions remained dry.

The Doñana Biological Station reported that this influx of water led to a resurgence of vegetation beneficial to breeding waterfowl such as coots, grebes, and herons. 

However, despite these positive signs, the challenges remain significant. Development pressures from agricultural fields and an adjacent resort town continue to strain the local aquifer, exacerbating the water scarcity and impacting the wetland’s ecological balance.

Long-term concerns for Doñana National Park

Javier Bustamante, a researcher at the Doñana Biological Station, emphasized that while the rainfall has eased some of the immediate drought-related issues, it does not address the deeper problem of groundwater overexploitation. 

“The rains have partially alleviated the most immediate drought problems, but they do not solve the invisible problem of groundwater overexploitation,” Bustamante stated, highlighting the complex nature of the challenges facing Doñana.

The overall effect of the rainfall will become clearer in the coming months, but experts caution that the changes observed might not signify long-term relief. Conservation efforts continue to focus on managing external pressures and restoring the ecological balance to preserve Doñana National Park for future generations.

More about Doñana National Park

Doñana National Park is one of Europe’s most important and diverse natural reserves. This vast park stretches across parts of the provinces of Huelva, Seville, and Cádiz. It was established as a national park in 1969 and covers an area of approximately 543 square kilometers.

The park is celebrated for its extraordinary biodiversity. It serves as a critical stopover, breeding, and wintering site for thousands of European and African migratory birds. 

Doñana’s complex ecosystem includes marshlands, shallow streams, and sand dunes, providing habitat for a wide variety of plant and animal species. Among its notable inhabitants are the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle, both of which are endangered species.

Doñana also has a rich cultural heritage; it has been influenced by various civilizations throughout history, including the Romans and Moors. This history is reflected in the archaeological sites found within its boundaries, including the remains of the town of La Algaida.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 


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