Sunday, June 21, 2015

Global food shortages under climate change: UH researchers

When climate change turns parts of the American grain belt into a dust bowl, and farming temperatures slide toward the poles, we can always move crops up to Canada, right?

Yes, but those fields won’t make up the loss, according to a team of University of Hawai`i researchers. Globally, suitable crop production land will actually decrease.

While the temperature may warm, the amount of sunlight available doesn’t. And expanded dry areas could also impact crop production.

“Areas in Russia, China, and Canada are projected to gain suitable plant growing days, but the rest of the world will experience losses. Notably, tropical areas could lose up to 200 suitable plant growing days per year.”

So writes a team is made up of Camilo Mora, Micah R. Fishe and Brandon M. Genco of the UH geography department, Iain R. Caldwell and Jamie M. Caldwell of the UH Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, and Steven W. Running of the University of Montana School of Forestry.

Their paper, “Suitable Days for Plant Growth Disappear under Projected Climate Change: Potential Human and Biotic Vulnerability,” was published June 10 in the journal PLOS Biology. 

Their calculations show that while days above freezing may increase 7 percent between now and 2100, actual suitable growing days decrease by 11 percent. 

“Using the latest generation of available climate projections we show that there will be fewer days with suitable climates for plant growth, despite an increase in days above freezing,” they write.

And, as often happens, the poorest populations will take the biggest hit.

“This decline in suitable plant growing days is due to interactions among unsuitable temperatures, light, and water availability. Our analysis shows that reductions in suitable plant growing days will be most pronounced in tropical areas and in countries that are among the poorest and most highly dependent on plant-related goods and services,” the authors write.

And at another level, if population continues to rise, that creates another threat.

“Human vulnerability could be further exacerbated because projected increases in human population are likely to result in a higher demand for diminishing plant-associated resources,” the authors write.

Here is Science Daily’s piece on the paper. "Plants may run out of time," it says.

Our headline mentions food, but the paper makes clear that it covers plant-based resources including food, paper, wood, meat, fiber, and animal by-products.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

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