According to a study, wheat-producing regions in the US and China are threatened by the increased risk of extreme weather.
New research has revealed that the risk of extreme weather has “significantly increased” in wheat-producing regions of the US and China, with researchers stating that “unprecedented heat and drought” could threaten crops.
The research was conducted by Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. npj Climate and Atmospheric Science.
The study team observed that as the world warms, changes in seasonal patterns occur and increase the amount of extreme weather events such as extreme droughts and heat waves. They pointed out that this would affect yields and food supply.
The findings predict that heat waves that occurred about once every 100 years in 1981 are now more likely to occur once every six years in the Midwestern US and once every 16 years in northeastern China.
The researchers say their work shows the range of conditions that “people should be prepared for, even if they haven’t happened yet.”
“The historical record is no longer a good representation of what we can expect in the future,” said Erin Coghlan de Perez, CBF Professor at the Friedman School, Dignitas Associate Professor at the Friedman School and lead author on the paper.
“We live in a changed climate and people underestimate today’s potential for extreme events.”
Coghlan de Perez and her colleagues set out to understand how this change has altered the risks, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, which is 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than the average global surface temperature between 1850 and 1900. extreme weather
The team collected a large set of seasonal forecasts from the past 40 years, which they used to generate thousands of possible variations in temperature and precipitation. Using this method, known as the Unpredicted Simulated Extreme Ensemble, or UNSEEN approach, the researchers estimated the frequency of extreme temperatures that exceeded the critical threshold for wheat growth.
According to the authors, winter wheat crops begin their growth in the fall and are harvested the following summer, meaning that higher temperatures in the spring (when the plant is flowering) can affect wheat development.
“At temperatures above 27.8 degrees Celsius, plants begin to experience heat stress. At temperatures above 32.8 degrees Celsius, important enzymes in wheat begin to break down,” explained the research team.
“In the Midwest, we’ve had seasons where you’d see enzyme breakdown thresholds exceeded four or five days on average—that was very unusual,” Coghlan de Perez said. “But our research showed possible alternative realities of today’s climate, which created 15 days above this threshold, which we think would be very harmful.”
“Record-breaking heat is associated with record-breaking drought,” Coghlan de Perez noted, before stating that “the combination of these two hazards will severely impact the growing season.”
Will this new research stop wheat rust in its tracks?
“The U.S. and China are considered global breadbaskets — regions that produce a significant amount of the world’s grains. If these crops fail simultaneously or at the same time as other major crops, it could have serious consequences for food prices and availability around the world.
Going forward, the study’s lead author suggested the results could be used to inform climate adaptation plans in the US and China and ensure stakeholders are able to prepare for future extreme weather events.
“With climate change, I think we’re experiencing a failure of imagination. “If we don’t imagine the extremes that might happen, we don’t prepare for them,” Coghlan de Perez said. “We should not be surprised. We can use the tools at our disposal to try to understand what is possible and be prepared when it happens.
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