By Rob Mitchum

A drought on the scale of the legendary Dust Bowl crisis of the 1930’s would have similarly destructive effects on U.S. agriculture today despite technological and agricultural advances, a new study finds. Additionally, warming temperatures in the future could lead to crop losses at the scale of the Dust Bowl in even normal precipitation years by the middle of the 21st Century, University of Chicago scientists conclude.

The study, published today in Nature Plants, simulated the effect of extreme weather from the Dust Bowl era on today’s maize, soy, and wheat crops. Authors Michael Glotter and Joshua Elliott of the Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP) at the Computation Institute (CI), examined whether modern agricultural innovations would protect against history repeating itself under similar conditions.

“We expected to find the system much more resilient because 30 percent of production is now irrigated in the United States, and because we’ve abandoned corn production in more severely drought-stricken places such as Oklahoma and West Texas,” said Elliott, a fellow and research scientist at RDCEP and the CI. “But we found the opposite: The system was just as sensitive to drought and heat as it was in the 1930’s…”

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