Climate data food security research

Climate data and food security research by Monica Ortiz

Grantham Scholar Monica Ortiz reflects on the important role that climate data plays in food security research.

Grantham Scholar Monica Ortiz.
Grantham Scholar Monica Ortiz.

Extreme climate events – like droughts and heat waves – can cause socioeconomic, health and environmental damage. They are projected to become more frequent as our world warms.

With this in mind, my supervisor Dr Julie Jones and the Grantham Scholars discussed Detectable Changes in the Frequency of Climate Extremes for Journal Club.

Detectable Changes in the Frequency of Climate Extremes

Julie chose this paper to emphasise the significance of the research behind climate extremes.

Using used real-world climate observations, climate models and statistics, the authors of this paper seek to answer 2 questions.

Firstly, have there been changes to hot and cold extreme temperatures globally and regionally? And secondly, are these changes greater than could be expected due to “natural” or internal climate variability?

Climate change is changing weather

The IPCC in their Special Report on Extreme Events report that climate change leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events.

Changes in temperature between present and future climate could result in 3 different scenarios.

Firstly, a shift towards a warmer climate, with less cold weather and less cold extremes.

Or there may no change to the mean temperature. But there would be increases in climate variability, meaning more of both hot and cold extremes.

Lastly, there could be a changed distribution. Here there may be changes to both the mean and the variability.

Changing weather and food security

Because of these changes to the mean and/or the variability, including extremes, the paper is relevant in the context of food security. Shifting means and extreme hot or cold temperatures will have significant impacts on agriculture, particularly crop production.

We discussed the relevance of the work on our research. For example, Emanga Alobwede shared that extreme temperature changes will impact soil viability for agriculture in terms of soil moisture, microbial life and erosion.

The attribution of extremes to anthropogenic greenhouse gases is also important to Stefano Gollinelli’s work on politics and governance. More proactive changes in land use and food security policies may be needed.

And the methodologies of detection and attribution in climate modelling have their cognates in the work of James Thackery and Hannah Sewell. Both are looking for genes will lead to their desired outcomes (bigger seeds and drought tolerance, respectively).

Long-term weather data

A discussion between the cohort and Julie led to interesting questions on the complex methodology of the research, including the importance of having long-term weather data.

Ideally, there would be numerous weather stations that collect relevant climate data all over the world. Such coverage would help build robust datasets for evaluation of the work that models do.

James Thackery said weather stations would be useful in regions of high biodiversity like the Amazon. However, countries are constrained by resources and infrastructure. For example, there are significantly fewer covered areas in the Southern Hemisphere and in many developing countries, including those in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Climate data shows food security will be impacted

Although there were some model simulations that significantly underestimated climate in particular regions, ultimately, the study found that there have been significant increases in warm extremes and decreases in cold extremes because of fewer cold days and nights and more warm days and nights in both hemispheres.

Additionally, although the magnitude of the contribution of greenhouse gases was not covered by the work, the study found that greenhouse gases have contributed to these observed changes.

Climate data from this work and other related research are clear: food security will be impacted. Further, greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our rapid growth and development have adverse effects around the world.

We need to change the way we fuel our progress, not only for the sake of the most vulnerable but for all.

Journal Club is meet up of Grantham Scholars to discuss publications from a multidisciplinary perspective. It is part of the Grantham Scholar training programme.

Edited by Claire Moran. Photo by Sandy Torchon from Pexels.