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Long Term Climate Change Trends Worry Experts

Corn Stalks

Photo: Rae Allen / Flickr.com

Indiana's corn crops were affected by last year's drought. Scientists say climate change could affect the long-term viability of mid-western crops.

Last summer’s hot, dry summer wiped out scores of Hoosier crops, and a new federal report on climate change says the Midwest can expect to see more seasons like this in coming years. Though the report authored by an Indiana University climatologist looks bleak, there are slivers of hope that carbon emissions in the U.S. are decreasing.

The Federal Climate Assessment Report, which looks at how climate change could affect the U.S., released its 2013 draft report last month. The study examines how potential climate change scenarios over the next century could affect crop production, human health, and the global economy, among other things.

Scientists Say Crops Could Be Hurt

Indiana University Professor of Atmospheric Science Sara Pryor is a lead author of the section that looks at how climate change could affect the Midwest, specifically. She says farmers could see future crops hurt by droughts similar to the ones the region saw last summer.

“Both corn and soybean yields are decreased if we have warm summers, and if we have dry summers,” she says “So, given that our climate change projections are that the Midwest will become warmer and dryer in the summer, we certainly have expectations that crop yields will decrease.”

She says if current trends continue, the growing region for crops will move gradually north.

“Because our region is relatively flat, for one degree of warming, a crop has to move; all plants have to move, about 100 kilometers to keep at that same temperature.”

However, she says, the farther north in the Midwest you go, the worst the soil quality gets.

Indiana’s Crop Growth Zone Could Be Altered

Rebecca Dolan is a plant biologist at Butler University. She says because of the way Indiana plants reproduce, many would have an especially difficult time migrating to new environments.

“It’s more likely that things will become more isolated and unable to migrate via seeds or pollen to habitats that would better meet their environmental needs if temperatures change,” she says.

However, there is a silver lining amongst such bleak clouds. Pryor says the trend in North America towards more energy efficient vehicles and buildings could at least slow the trend towards a warmer climate.

At Indiana University, a new cyberinfrastructure building was specifically designed to use as little energy as possible. Spokeswoman Laurie Antolovic says the building’s carbon footprint is smaller than a traditional structure of similar size.

“The building is designed so we decrease our energy consumption, [compared with] a baseline building without the design put into play here. We are going to be using 75-74-percent of the energy that would have been required to operate a building of this size and occupancy,” she says.

IU has mandated that nearly all buildings on campus be brought up to more stringent efficiency standards. Officials say replacing outdated lighting, insulation, and windows will reduce the university’s energy consumption by a measurable amount in coming years.

Fishing, Other Agribusinesses Affected?

In addition to warning about how Midwest crops could be affected by warmer temperatures, the 2013 climate study also points to how changes in water temperatures of the Great Lakes could impact the fishing industry.

It also says warmer summers will increase the prevalence of algae blooms in both large and small lakes in the Midwest. Algae blooms can kill off large numbers of fish by depleting a body of water’s oxygen levels, and some species are toxic to humans and pets.

A link to the draft 2013 study can be found here.

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