Thursday, July 4, 2013

Four New Environmental Research Letters

Implications of regional improvement in global climate models for agricultural impact research 
Global climate models (GCMs) have become increasingly important for climate change science and provide the basis for most impact studies. Since impact models are highly sensitive to input climate data, GCM skill is crucial for getting better short-, medium- and long-term outlooks for agricultural production and food security. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) phase 5 ensemble is likely to underpin the majority of climate impact assessments over the next few years. We assess 24 CMIP3 and 26 CMIP5 simulations of present climate against climate observations for five tropical regions, as well as regional improvements in model skill and, through literature review, the sensitivities of impact estimates to model error. Climatological means of seasonal mean temperatures depict mean errors between 1 and 18 ° C (2–130% with respect to mean), whereas seasonal precipitation and wet-day frequency depict larger errors, often offsetting observed means and variability beyond 100%. Simulated interannual climate variability in GCMs warrants particular attention, given that no single GCM matches observations in more than 30% of the areas for monthly precipitation and wet-day frequency, 50% for diurnal range and 70% for mean temperatures. We report improvements in mean climate skill of 5–15% for climatological mean temperatures, 3–5% for diurnal range and 1–2% in precipitation. At these improvement rates, we estimate that at least 5–30 years of CMIP work is required to improve regional temperature simulations and at least 30–50 years for precipitation simulations, for these to be directly input into impact models. We conclude with some recommendations for the use of CMIP5 in agricultural impact studies.

Global crop exposure to critical high temperatures in the reproductive period: historical trends and future projections

Long-term warming trends across the globe have shifted the distribution of temperature variability, such that what was once classified as extreme heat relative to local mean conditions has become more common. This is also true for agricultural regions, where exposure to extreme heat, particularly during key growth phases such as the reproductive period, can severely damage crop production in ways that are not captured by most crop models. Here, we analyze exposure of crops to physiologically critical temperatures in the reproductive stage (Tcrit), across the global harvested areas of maize, rice, soybean and wheat. Trends for the 1980–2011 period show a relatively weak correspondence (r = 0.19) between mean growing season temperature and Tcrit exposure trends, emphasizing the importance of separate analyses for Tcrit. Increasing Tcrit exposure in the past few decades is apparent for wheat in Central and South Asia and South America, and for maize in many diverse locations across the globe. Maize had the highest percentage (15%) of global harvested area exposed to at least five reproductive days over Tcrit in the 2000s, although this value is somewhat sensitive to the exact temperature used for the threshold. While there was relatively little sustained exposure to reproductive days over Tcrit for the other crops in the past few decades, all show increases with future warming. Using projections from climate models we estimate that by the 2030s, 31, 16, and 11% respectively of maize, rice, and wheat global harvested area will be exposed to at least five reproductive days over Tcrit in a typical year, with soybean much less affected. Both maize and rice exhibit non-linear increases with time, with total area exposed for rice projected to grow from 8% in the 2000s to 27% by the 2050s, and maize from 15 to 44% over the same period. While faster development should lead to earlier flowering, which would reduce reproductive extreme heat exposure for wheat on a global basis, this would have little impact for the other crops. Therefore, regardless of the impact of other global change factors (such as increasing atmospheric CO2), reproductive extreme heat exposure will pose risks for global crop production without adaptive measures such as changes in sowing dates, crop and variety switching, expansion of irrigation, and agricultural expansion into cooler areas.

Assessing climate change impacts on sorghum and millet yields in the Sudanian and Sahelian savannas of West Africa
Sub-Saharan West Africa is a vulnerable region where a better quantification and understanding of the impact of climate change on crop yields is urgently needed. Here, we have applied the process-based crop model SARRA-H calibrated and validated over multi-year field trials and surveys at eight contrasting sites in terms of climate and agricultural practices in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The model gives a reasonable correlation with observed yields of sorghum and millet under a range of cultivars and traditional crop management practices. We applied the model to more than 7000 simulations of yields of sorghum and millet for 35 stations across West Africa and under very different future climate conditions. We took into account 35 possible climate scenarios by combining precipitation anomalies from −20% to 20% and temperature anomalies from +0 to +6 °C.
We found that most of the 35 scenarios (31/35) showed a negative impact on yields, up to −41% for +6 °C/ − 20% rainfall. Moreover, the potential future climate impacts on yields are very different from those recorded in the recent past. This is because of the increasingly adverse role of higher temperatures in reducing crop yields, irrespective of rainfall changes. When warming exceeds +2 °C, negative impacts caused by temperature rise cannot be counteracted by any rainfall change. The probability of a yield reduction appears to be greater in the Sudanian region (southern Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, northern Togo and Benin), because of an exacerbated sensitivity to temperature changes compared to the Sahelian region (Niger, Mali, northern parts of Senegal and Burkina Faso), where crop yields are more sensitive to rainfall change. Finally, our simulations show that the photoperiod-sensitive traditional cultivars of millet and sorghum used by local farmers for centuries seem more resilient to future climate conditions than modern cultivars bred for their high yield potential (−28% versus −40% for the +4 °C/ − 20% scenario). Photoperiod-sensitive cultivars counteract the effect of temperature increase on shortening cultivar duration and thus would likely avoid the need to shift to cultivars with a greater thermal time requirement. However, given the large difference in mean yields of the modern versus traditional varieties, the modern varieties would still yield more under optimal fertility conditions in a warmer world, even if they are more affected by climate change.

Impacts of recent climate change on Wisconsin corn and soybean yield trends 

The US Corn Belt supports agroecosystems that flourish in a temperate climate regime that could see significant changes in the next few decades. Because Wisconsin is situated on the northern, cooler fringes of this region, it may be the beneficiary of a warmer climate that could help support higher corn and soybean yields. Here we show that trends in precipitation and temperature during the growing season from 1976–2006 explained 40% and 35% of county corn and soybean yield trends, respectively. Using county level yield information combined with climate data, we determined that both corn and soybean yield trends were enhanced in counties that experienced a trend towards cooler and wetter conditions during the summer. Our results suggest that for each additional degree ( °C) of future warming during summer months, corn and soybean yields could potentially decrease by 13% and 16%, respectively, whereas if modest increases in total summer precipitation (i.e. 50 mm) were to occur, yields may be boosted by 5–10%, counteracting a portion of the negative effects associated with increased temperature. While northern US Corn Belt regions such as Wisconsin may benefit from a warmer climate regime and management changes that lengthen the crop-growing period in spring and autumn, mid- to high-latitude crop productivity may be challenged by additional summertime warming unless adaptive measures are taken.

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