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Cascading Disasters in the Mediterranean: Storm in Lampedusa

800px-Boat_People_at_Sicily_in_the_Mediterranean_SeaLast Friday the Mediterranean areas around Southern Italy experienced a rare “Medicane” event of tropical storm-like conditions. Jeff Master’s explains the science behind these rare weather events, and the likelihood of seeing more of them under a changing climate.

Storms of this nature are just one more stress to the small Italian island that is also a main point of entry to the European Union for migrants and refugees from places like Syria and Eritrea. The voyage from point of origin to the shores of Europe and Italy is no cruise:

In the first half of 2014, over 63,000 migrants arrived at Italy’s shores. Of those attempting to make the deadly journey to Europe, over 3,000 migrants have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Italian government created the Operation Mare Nostrum (OMN) to “tackle the dramatic increase of migratory flows during the second half of the year and consequent tragic ship wreckages off the island of Lampedusa.” Despite this program’s successes, it is likely going to be replaced by a less costly EU consortium project. Liz Field reports:

Mare Nostrum — Latin for “our sea” — was launched last October in response to two catastrophic boat incidents that killed over 360 people, mostly Eritreans. It has since saved the lives of tens of thousands of desperate migrants seeking to cross into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East.

The operation is largely credited with saving some 400 lives a day, but at a high cost: roughly 114 million euros ($142 million) per year.

On Friday, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Angelino Alfano, announced the government would shelve the costly naval operation. Instead, the EU border agency Frontex will step up to coordinate a new “Triton” border surveillance mission scaled back to a cost of 2.9 million euro ($3.6 million) a month, and restricted to activity within 30 nautical miles off Italy’s coast.

Vice News released a video documentary of the situation worth watching. The confluence of factors driving migration from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to Europe, including conflict, economic insecurity, governance gaps, and climatic events, is something that nations in the region and globally are going to have to devote increased attention and resources to, especially as the security of the MENA region continues to be in question, and as climatic patterns continue to change (see NOAA 2011). The combination of dramatic decreases in winter precipitation in the MENA region (and the broader Mediterranean), and the possibility of more frequent tropical storms, will likely not help the situation.



  1. Vlad Fomin says:

    Tropical storm in the Mediterranean Sea, in my view, it makes sense to consider jointly with severe infiltration of cold air from the Arctic to the European part of Russia. In fact, by the end of October 2014 in this region Russian air temperature was 10 – 12 degrees below normal for this time of year. Was set fairly steady snow cover. The explanation of these two events – quite simple … As a result, manifestations of “stochastic resonance” in the North Atlantic was (briefly) the conversion of 8-shaped flow: Gulf Stream – Irminger Current – Labrador Current … in two annular flow. Thus there was a weakening power of the North Atlantic Current (as a consequence – the breakthrough of cold air from the Arctic in Russia) and the increase in capacity of the southern ring in the Atlantic, near 20 degrees north latitude (as a consequence – a tropical storm in the Mediterranean Sea). The system of currents in the North Atlantic – is nonlinear; all the necessary conditions for the construction of a mathematical model – is available. I believe that in the near future, the frequency of occurrence of similar events will increase; in this case – will experience an increase in the risk of negative consequences of these climatic changes.

  2. Rachael Schoonover says:

    Thank you for that informational comment, Vlad. I can’t help but wonder how some individuals can still claim that climate change is not an urgent matter when events like this are happening all over the world. It is now too late to reverse the effects of climate change and in the event that these storms will continue happening along with migration, I wonder how humanity will learn to adapt. Perhaps boats will have to take alternative routes or, what if the Mediterranean region were to become a sea that cannot be crossed until the ocean currents change again?

  3. Vlad Fomin says:

    To Rachael Schoonover:
    Unfortunately, I was wrong. The result of “stochastic resonance” was significantly worse than the cold snap in Russia (end of October) and tropical storms in the Mediterranean Sea, floods in France, Italy … Now taking place powerful and abnormal – on time – snowfall in North America are also natural consequences. It seems that the current climate change scenarios, harsher than I expected; is crucial factor in the amount of resources available time. To stabilize the climate in the Northern Hemisphere (approximately at 250 – 300 years), we must create a channel in Canada. Its length – about 70 kilometers; width – 25 meters; depth – 3 meters. The case – quite expensive; need to negotiate with the Government of Canada and, of course, to make the necessary clarification of the channel topology. About five years ago I knew exactly “trajectory” of the channel, but for now – we need new input data for the calculations: there have been many changes. A design error – is unacceptable. Regards, Vlad.

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