04/02/2012 03:18
Decade-long multilateral Jordan Valley program that promoted regional cooperation comes to an end.

Adhering to the “resources know no borders” concept, experts involved in a multinational, decade-long Jordan Valley hydrological project hope that their research will not only help preserve the area’s ecosystem but also promote future regional cooperation through science.

“Any management that we’re doing in one country will affect the other,” said Prof. Katja Tielbörger, scientific director of the Global Change in Hydrological Cycle: Jordan River (GLOWA JR) project. “It’s nice to develop strategies of climate adaptation, but eventually they might end up really inefficient because they’re not coordinated with the neighbor.”

Tielbörger spoke on Sunday at “Science and the response to climate change in Israel,” the first in a two-day conference sponsored by the GLOWA JR project, Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.

The conference signaled the coming end of the 11- year interdisciplinary and international research venture, which has aimed to provide scientific support for sustainable water management in the Jordan River area.

At the conference, experts and stakeholders involved with the program were to discuss the results from the past decade of water management analysis as well as the aftermath of the project.

The project has been financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the larger GLOWA research initiative.

While the team working on the project includes members from Germany, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and other locations, the Department of Plant Ecology of the University of Tübingen, in Germany coordinated the project. The Israeli members, who include professors and researchers from all over the country, have been led by Prof. Alpert Pinhas, the head of the Porter School of Environmental Studies.

The third and current phase of GLOWA JR began in January 2009, and the project will officially conclude this June.

The Israeli team produced all kinds of models, examined trends and conducted sub-projects across a variety of sectors. For example, the researchers found that from 2010 to 2050, there will be an approximate increase in mean summer temperatures of up to 3 degrees, an increase of mean annual temperatures of up to 2 degrees, and a decrease of annual mean precipitation in range of 10 to 20 percent in the Jordan River region, according to Pinhas. Meanwhile, the occurrence of extreme weather events would rise, he said.

Models for biodiversity showed that hydrological changes would not have quite so dramatic an impact on the region’s natural ecosystem, according to Tielbörger.

By setting up experimental areas of drought conditions in normally wet areas and supplementing rainfall in typically dryer areas, a Tel Aviv University Molecular Biology and Plant Ecology Department team was able to see how communities might respond. Prof. Marcelo Sternberg confirmed that the vegetation mostly appeared to be resilient to the induced climate changes. However, these changes were continuous, induced over several years, and Sternberg warned that an increase in extreme events might not yield the same results.

In the case of the region’s animals, however, researchers warned that both climate change and land transformation will cause species to shift their distributions to the west and northwest.

As more and more evaporative water loss occurs, the activities of the species will be more and more limited, according to Prof. Tamar Dayan of the zoology department at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

To ensure that the species will remain intact in the region, all three governments will need to employ changes in their environmental policies and practice, some of which may be very costly, Dayan said.

“This is a place where there is a lot of room for regional cooperation,” she said.
“Ecosystem services are increasingly a common currency in the international quest for environmental sustainability.”

Germany is just the country to help move this cooperation along, Tielbörger said.

Collaborations have already become a “significant side effect” of the decade-long program, which has led to both “confidence- building” and “a genuine trilateral dialogue,” according to Tielbörger.

During the last stakeholder workshop held in Germany, participants from all the countries expressed interest in establishing a regional center for integrated water resource management under climate change, as a result of the project, she said.

Now, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research may be interested in funding such a center, and in September will meet with regional decision-makers in Istanbul for a final evaluation, issuing a decision by December.

“Germany is willing to function as a catalyst but they’re not willing to fund the initiative to time immemorial,” Tielbörger said. “In the long run this needs to be funded by the regional governments.”