Ozone + Rising Temperatures = Problems for Food Security
A new study shows that interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution can be quite significant when it comes to addressing food security.
Conducted in part by researchers at MIT, a study looked in detail at global production of four leading food crops — rice, wheat, corn, and soy. It predicts that effects will vary considerably from region to region, and that some of the crops are much more strongly affected by one or the other of the factors: For example, wheat is very sensitive to ozone exposure, while corn is much more adversely affected by heat.
Colette Heald, associate professor of civic and environmental engineering at MIT, explains that while it's known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can damage plants and reduce crop yields, "nobody has looked at these together." And while rising temperatures are widely discussed, the impact of air quality on crops is less recognized.
The effects are likely to vary widely by region, the study predicts. In the United States, tougher air-quality regulations are expected to lead to a sharp decline in ozone pollution, mitigating its impact on crops. But in other regions, the outcome "will depend on domestic air-pollution policies," Heald says. "An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields."
Overall, with all other factors being equal, warming may reduce crop yields globally by about 10 percent by 2050, the study found. But the effects of ozone pollution are more complex — some crops are more strongly affected by it than others — which suggests that pollution-control measures could play a major role in determining outcomes.
While heat and ozone can each damage plants independently, the factors also interact. For example, warmer temperatures significantly increase production of ozone from the reactions, in sunlight, of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Because of these interactions, the team found that 46 percent of damage to soybean crops that had previously been attributed to heat is actually caused by increased ozone.
Under some scenarios, the researchers found that pollution-control measures could make a major dent in the expected crop reductions following climate change. For example, while global food production was projected to fall by 15 percent under one scenario, larger emissions decreases projected in an alternate scenario reduce that drop to 9 percent.
Read more at MIT News.
Crop image via Shutterstock.