Environment

Frost that devastated French vineyards linked to climate change

Water is sprayed in the morning to protect vineyards from frost damage outside Chablis, France, April 7, 2021.
Water is sprayed in the morning to protect vineyards from frost damage outside Chablis, France, April 7, 2021. REUTERS - PASCAL ROSSIGNOL

Episodes of unseasonably late frost, like the one that damaged French vineyards in April, are likely to happen more often because of climate change, scientists warned Tuesday.

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A third of French wine was lost during the cold snap, which Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said was “probably the greatest agronomic disaster of the early 21st century" in France.

Such was the scope of the damage, the government put together an emergency solidarity fund of one billion euros for affected farmers, which also included arboriculturists, beet growers and others.

Scientists studying the link between global warming and weather events say the intense frost, from 6-8 April, was particularly damaging because it came on the back of a warm spell in March.

'Early spring'

In a report, a team from the World Weather Attribution – an international collective of scientists – analysed data from vineyards in Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire Valley, as well as examining more than a hundred climate models.

"At the time these frosts hit, the buds had already burst," said co-author Friederike Otto, of Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute. "And so the frost did damage the vegetation quite a lot."

The report concluded that climate change had increased the probability of frost occurring during a budding period by about 60 percent.

Another study author, Nicolas Viovy, from the Laboratory of Environmental Climate Sciences, explained that mild weather brought about by global warming was encouraging vegetation to come out of its winter dormancy earlier.

"We have gained almost 15 days since the 1980s,” Viovy said. “The warmer it is, the more vegetation is exposed to the risk of late frost.”

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