Experts talk climate change, influence of Arctic weather patterns on Midwest agriculture at University of Nebraska-Lincoln
March 22, 2016
Discussion of climate change in the Arctic normally focuses on ice caps and polar bears.
But there's also a vested interest in the impact the arctic climate has on the Midwest, and more specifically, on farming and ranching.
Weather can be unpredictable as it is, but with climate change, more extreme weather patterns will directly affect crops. The most direct way will be through either too much or not enough water.
How this would facilitate a possible change in water management on wet and dry years was discussed at the "Implications of a changing arctic on water resources and agriculture in the Central U.S." workshop in November. The workshop was at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“It is a very complex topic and one of the reasons why I think we see confusion on the part of the public is that a lot of people don’t understand the issues associated with the changing climate.”
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The connection between the U.S. and the Arctic might not be immediately evident due to the distance, but the U.S. is actually one of eight countries that make up the Arctic Council. The council also includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the indigenous peoples of the area, and they discuss issues facing the Arctic and how those issues impact the represented states.
The U.S. will be chair of the committee through 2017. With this leadership change, Don Wilhite, professor and climatologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said the workshop exploring the Arctic and Midwest relationship came naturally.
"(T)here's quite a bit of scientific debate going on right now with regards to the implications of changes in the Arctic and terms of loss of sea ice and warming and what the implications of that will be actually for the middle latitudes in terms of severe weather and extreme climate events," Wilhite said in an interview with NET News in November.
Jennifer Francis, a research professor from Rutgers University, was one of the presenters and shared research regarding the relationship between the warming arctic and how that might affect extreme weather patterns.
Her PowerPoint from the conference said weather is predicted to have less changes day-to-day, but there will be more drastic variability overall. In other words, there might be longer periods of dry weather or longer cold spells.
To have more extremes and less variation in shorter spans of time can lead to problems for farmers who rely on semi-consistent weather patterns year-to-year. These crop growers will have to adapt to what may become an even less-predictable weather pattern.
Not being able to predict how the temperature trends can change will pose a threat for farmers, especially those who grow crops that can be hypersensitive to higher temperatures.
Jerry Hatfield, a research plant physiologist, presented his research regarding soil health and its importance with climate change. In the presentation, a study was used to show corn and soybean yields and how a change in maximum temperature relates to the yields. The presentation showed a decrease in the overall yield as the maximum temperature increased.
So finding solutions to prevent the decrease in yields and a way to manage water for wet and dry seasons is something agriculture and climate researchers plan to look into. That way, answers are known before they're direly needed.
"It is a very complex topic and one of the reasons why I think we see confusion on the part of the public is that a lot of people don't understand the issues associated with the changing climate," Wilhite said. "The data shows us that it really is changing and it's pretty dramatic."❖