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Investigating the impact of climate change on snow and water resources in Greece

Konstantis Alexopoulos with instrument near Mt Tymfi in Greece. Photograph by  Konstantinos Sofikitis

Girton PhD Student, Konstantis Alexopoulos, recently undertook an ambitious expedition to Mt. Tymfi’s alpine zone, in Northern Pindus, Greece, to install automatic instruments. These will gather field observations over the following months to understand the effect of climate change on the high altitudes of Greece.

We asked Konstantis where he hopes his research will lead and what inspired him to pursue climate science.


Konstantis Alexopoulos on a winter expedition at Mt. Tymfi, GreeceThe overarching goal of my current research is to understand how climate change is impacting snow on the mountains of my home country, Greece – when does it fall, how much of it falls, when does it melt – and how these changes are affecting the country’s water resources in a rapidly warming planet.

Contrary to popular belief, Greece is a very mountainous country, with more than 300 large mountains, and about 40 ranges that exceed 2,000 meters in elevation. Mountains are where the majority of precipitation falls, especially during winter, meaning they play a vital role in providing lowlands with water for domestic, agricultural, industrial use and more. However, in the rapidly changing Mediterranean climate, dryer and warmer conditions are affecting these fragile processes, causing the winter season to shrink, which poses an increasing risk to our society and to the environment. Understanding the rate at which these changes are occurring, is key for informing management measures that will ensure water security in the decades to come.

Through the use of satellites and numerical models, we have an unparalleled large-scale perspective into our world, but it’s not exactly perfect. This means that as climate scientists, it is our job to go into the field – often under harsh weather conditions – to take measurements from remote places, such as mountainous areas, that we refer to as “data gaps”. This was precisely our goal during my last expedition, where we headed up in Mt. Tymfi’s alpine zone, in Northern Pindus, Greece, to install instruments that over the following months will measure the amount of snow that falls up at 2,050m above sea level, helping us improve the precision of estimates offered by satellites and models.

Konstantis Alexopoulos (left) with team member right, trekking in the snow covered Mt Tymfi region in Greece

What inspired you to pursue this research?

My path towards studying mountains and snow here at Cambridge has been a little unconventional, considering that my original training at the University of Plymouth was in ocean science and marine conservation. However, you’d be surprised how many similarities there are between the two fields, and how applicable conservation concepts are across different environments. Growing up in a tiny mountainous community of about 20 residents, I was very fortunate to be able to learn and appreciate from early on the natural world around me. I think that this very love for the mountains has brought me back to study them, and hopefully help protect them, so they can continue to inspire and sustain life.

Where do you hope the research will lead?

Publishing research is a great way to get our findings out there in the wider scientific community, and it definitely helps further one’s career goals within the academic environment. But as soon as you step outside of that academic “bubble”, you realise that barely anyone knows what you’re talking about. In fields such as conservation, climate, and environmental sciences, I find it very important that researchers don’t consider publications as the finish line of a project, but as its first steps into the real world. With my research on snow, and more broadly on water resources, engaging with authorities and policy makers at a local and national level is essential. The information must also reach the right people, who will then be empowered by unbiased data to make any changes that are needed to secure a better tomorrow.

This research is a collaboration between the Scott Polar Research Institute, and the National Observatory of Athens, while fieldwork was facilitated by the Limnological Monitoring & Alpine Datasets Project.

Expedition team: Konstantis Alexopoulos, Stelios Sarantellis, Konstantinos Sofikitis, Petros Sofikitis, and Dimitrios Pallis

Photographer: Konstantinos Sofikitis