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Weather Models May Underestimate Temperature Variability

Could the weather be even more volatile in the future? A University of Washington professor says the answer is 'yes.'

Food production won't get any easier as the century progresses, at least according to new research from the University of Washington. David Battisti, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences, says an increase in the variability of summertime temperatures around the world by the end of the century will make food production more difficult.

He maintains that current climate models don't adequately reflect feedbacks from the relationship between the atmosphere and soil, which causes them to underestimate the increase in variability in summertime temperatures. While warmer temperatures already have implications for food production in the tropics, the new findings suggest the increase in the volatility of summertime temperatures will have a serious effect in grain-growing regions of Europe, North and South America.

"If there's greater variability, the odds of the temperature being so high that you can't grow a crop are greater," Battisti says. "In terms of regional and global food security, it's not good news."

Battisti presented his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver, Canada. His discussion was part of a panel on climate and global food security that included Rosamond Naylor of Stanford University and Daniel Vimont of the University of Wisconsin, with whom he has collaborated on previous food security research.

Earlier research has shown that by the end of this century, the increase in average growing season temperature, if other factors remain the same, will likely reduce yields of rice, corn and soybean 30 to 40 percent. Already rice yields in the tropics are being affected by higher temperatures, affecting nations such as Indonesia, which frequently imports rice to stabilize prices, Battisti says.

Previous work has shown that future month-to-month temperature variability in the summer is likely greater in some locations, but less in others. This new modeling work counters that view and shows most areas can expect to see greater variability in summer temperatures between now and 2085, with the biggest impacts in Europe, Africa and South America.

Source: University of Washington

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