By Tamarra Kemsley

Freshwater shortages could double the effects of climate change on agriculture yields, a new study combining climate, agricultural and hydrological models found.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study estimates that climate change alone could result in a loss of between 400-2,600 petacalories of food supply, or 8 to 43 percent of present day levels. Add projected declines of freshwater into the mix and this could jump an additional 600-2,900 petacalories, the models showed.

The study represents a unique blend of research designed to give a more complex and honest look at where the planet is headed.

“This is absolutely the first study in which a multi-model ensemble of hydrological models was compared to a multi-model ensemble of crop models,” said co-author Joshua Elliott, a research scientist with the Computation Institute’s Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy, Argonne National Laboratory. “Several modeling groups have already changed the way that they are modeling the hydrological cycle with respect to crops because of the results of this paper.”

While both account for climate, the two models differ substantially in what they measure. Agricultural models are mainly designed to simulate how temperature, precipitation and other factors alter crop yield, while hydrological models estimate factors stream flow, water availability and storm runoff…

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Areas of Focus: Environment
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