By Jonathan Amos
US scientists have modelled how a 1930s-like “dustbowl” drought might impact American agriculture today, and found it to be just as damaging.
But the research shows the effects to be very sensitive to temperature, meaning the potential losses would be far worse later this century if Earth’s climate heats up as expected.
A repeat of 1930s weather today would lead to a 40% loss in maize production.
In a 2-degree warmer world, it becomes a 65% reduction, the team projects.
“The 1930s were really extreme and, yes, the chances of the same precipitation distribution happening again are small,” explained Joshua Elliott, from the University of Chicago’s Computation Institute.
“But the temperature distribution wasn’t any more extreme than we’ve seen in 2012 or 1988, for example.
“And what we see at higher temperatures is that these crops – maize and also soy – are so sensitive that an average year come mid-century could be as bad as 1936, even with normal precipitation,” he told BBC News.
Dr Elliott was speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He has been taking part in a discussion session on so-called “food shocks”, where the failure of key crops can lead to rapid global price hikes.
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