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Effects of land cover change on moisture availability and potential crop yield in the world’s breadbaskets

Last modified January 30, 2012 10:45

Effects of land cover change on moisture availability and potential crop yield in the world’s breadbaskets. This article has been downloaded from IOPscience.

The majority of the world’s food production capability is inextricably tied to global precipitation patterns. Changes in moisture availability—whether from changes in climate from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions or those induced by land cover change (LCC)—can have profound impacts on food production. In this study, we examined the patterns of evaporative sources that contribute to moisture availability over five major global food producing regions (breadbaskets), and the potential for land cover change to influence these moisture sources by altering surface evapotranspiration. For a range of LCC scenarios we estimated the impact of altered surface fluxes on crop moisture availability and potential yield using a simplified linear hydrologic model and a state-of-the-art ecosystem and crop model. All the breadbasket regions were found to be susceptible to reductions in moisture owing to perturbations in evaporative source (ES) from LCC, with reductions in moisture availability ranging from 7 to 17% leading to potential crop yield reductions of 1–17%, which are magnitudes comparable to the changes anticipated with greenhouse warming. The sensitivity of these reductions in potential crop yield to varying magnitudes of LCC was not consistent among regions. Two variables explained most of these differences: the first was the magnitude of the potential moisture availability change, with regions exhibiting greater reductions in moisture availability also tending to exhibit greater changes in potential yield; the second was the soil moisture within crop root zones. Regions with mean growing season soil moisture fractions of saturation >0.5 typically had reduced impacts on potential crop yield. Our results indicate the existence of LCC thresholds that have the capability to create moisture shortages adversely affecting crop yields in major food producing regions, which could lead to future food supply disruptions in the absence of increased irrigation or other forms of water management.

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