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Impact of climate change on crops worse than previously thought – University of Reading

Release Date : 27 April 2005

world weather mapThe impact of climate change on global crop production is likely to be worse than previously predicted, scientists said at a Royal Society discussion meeting partly organised by Reading scientists in London. A two-day international meeting entitled 'Food Crops in a Changing Climate' brought together world-class scientists in the fields of meteorology, climate science and agriculture, to discuss the impacts of a changing climate on the productivity of staple food crops, grown throughout the world. Importantly, it considered how best to forecast these impacts using observations and modelling techniques. The meeting focussed largely on tropical countries where most of the world's food is grown and where people are most vulnerable to climate change. Results were presented from a series of large-scale field experiments on crops such as maize, rice, soyabean and wheat, that show how increasing temperatures, drought and ground-level ozone concentrations (as predicted for the coming century#), will result in substantial reduction in crop yields, outweighing the beneficial fertilisation effects currently predicted from rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Professor Steve Long from Illinois University said: "Growing crops much closer to real conditions has shown that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have roughly half the beneficial effects that were previously hoped for in the event of climate change. In addition, ground-level ozone, which is also predicted to rise but has not been extensively studied before, has been shown to result in a loss of photosynthesis and 20% yield loss." He continued: "Both these results show that we need to seriously re-examine our predictions for future global food production as they are likely to be far lower than previously estimated." Additionally, studies by scientists from the UK and Denmark show that just a few days of hot temperatures can severely reduce the yield of major food crops such as wheat, soyabean, rice and groundnuts, if they coincide with the flowering of these crops. These results suggest that there are particular thresholds above which crops become very vulnerable to climate change. On a more positive note, the meeting highlighted new developments in forecasting techniques, the basis of which can act as early warning systems of famine for vulnerable countries. For example, a team from the NCAS Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling and the Department of Agriculture at the University of Reading demonstrated a new forecasting system that incorporates a state-of-the-art climate prediction model with a model that simulates crop growth under varying environmental conditions. They showed how this can be used to predict the yield of annual crops in countries such as India, for the next 50-100 years, under a changing climate. Such information can be used by policy makers to aid future planning for climate and crop responses, and for assessing future vulnerabilities across the globe. A report from this meeting will be made available to inform discussions at the G8 summit meeting at Gleneagles in July, with particular reference to food security in Africa. # As predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change for 2050. End Notes for editors 1. "Food Crops in a Changing Climate" is a Royal Society discussion meeting held at its London premises on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April 2005. Organisers include scientists from the NCAS Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling (CGAM) and the Agriculture Department at the University of Reading. Details of the meeting, including the agenda, can be found here: Details of these lectures can be found here: 2. To arrange interviews with Reading scientists or organisers of the meeting please contact: Dr Louisa Watts, NCAS Science Communications Manager - Mobile 07786 214886, email or Craig Hillsley, University of Reading press officer on tel: 0118 378 7388, email: All other interviews, please contact Tim Watson, Royal Society press officer on 020 7451 2508; email: 3. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. The Society's objectives are to: * strengthen UK science by providing support to excellent individuals * fund excellent research to push back the frontiers of knowledge * attract and retain the best scientists * ensure the UK engages with the best science around the world * support science communication and education; and communicate and encourage dialogue with the public * provide the best independent advice nationally and internationally * promote scholarship and encourage research into the history of science 4. The NERC Centres for Atmospheric Science - NCAS - carry out the UK's core academic atmospheric research programme, including climate variability and climate change. The Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling - CGAM - is a component of NCAS and specialises in climate variability and climate change science. CGAM works closely with the Hadley Centre on issues related to climate change. Both NCAS Headquarters and CGAM are based in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading. 5. The University of Reading Department of Meteorology is a world-leading centre of excellence in the atmospheric sciences. With an RAE rating of 5*, it is the only UK Department to offer a full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the atmospheric sciences. The Department has close research and training links with the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and the UK Meteorological Office. The University of Reading School of Agriculture, Policy and Development promotes excellence in research and teaching in the natural and social sciences relating to agriculture, rural environments and the countryside, the businesses and people associated with these sectors and affected by them (e.g. food and agribusiness, rural livelihoods and consumers). The School, which is home to 650 students and has 850 hectares of farming land near to the University, has recently received £5.3m investment to develop the new 600-cow dairy unit and related research centres. The Plant Environment Laboratory (PEL) is a research unit in the School of Agriculture. It comprises a unique collection of controlled-environment facilities (plant growth cabinets, controlled glasshouses and polytunnels) for crop science research. For further information and abstracts of the talks from Day One contact: Tim Watson Press and Public Relations The Royal Society, London Tel: 020 7451 2508 or 07866 288456 Email: Dr Louisa Watts NCAS Science Communications Manager Tel: 07786 214886 Email:


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