NASA

NASA predicts that food crops will be affected by climate change by the end of the decade

science World

According to a recent NASA study, one of the world’s most essential crops, corn, may soon be severely impacted by climate change, threatening global food security.

Corn is the world’s most widely grown crop, used to manufacture popcorn to feed cows and chickens. But by 2030, yields may have fallen by roughly a fifth. And that’s assuming the trend continues. This alarming conclusion came from a recent NASA study that employed advanced computer modeling to look at predicted global temperature rises, changes in rain patterns, and growing greenhouse gas concentrations.

The simulations predicted that many tropical locations reliant on corn production will become too hot for the plants.

“We did not expect to see such a substantial departure from 2014 crop yield forecasts,” said lead author Jonas Jägermeyr of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “A 20% reduction in current production might have global ramifications.”

The top three corn producers are the US, China, and Brazil. But it’s grown widely throughout Central Asia, Western Africa, and Central America. NASA warned that yields in all of these areas may drop over the next decade.

A new climate reality confronts global agriculture even under optimistic climate change scenarios, Jägermeyr says. As the global food system is interrelated, effects in one region’s breadbasket will be felt everywhere.

But there’s hope. The second most crucial crop farmed for human consumption (after rice), that wheat might do better in a warmer future. The study predicted a 17% increase in yields by 2030.

The scientists employed two models to replicate crop activity. First, they simulated Earth’s climate response to various greenhouse gas emission scenarios up to the year 2100. They looked at temperature, rainfall, and carbon dioxide concentrations in the soil, affecting photosynthesis and thus plant development. The input for these models came from real-world crop experiments, so the scientists are confident in their outcomes.

It’s like growing virtual crops day by day on a supercomputer, then looking at the change year by year and decade by decade in each area,” said Alex Ruane, co-director of GISS Climate Impacts Group and co-author of the paper.

Because the models replicated crop response over time, experts think they can discriminate between the effects of climate change and typical weather-related fluctuation in yields.

The study was published in the journal Nature Food on Monday (Nov. 1).