In the cavernous Moscone Center’s halls in San Francisco, some 18,000 geologists, oceanographers, climate scientists and specialists in many other fields gather this week for the world’s largest meeting of earth and space scientists, the American Geophysical Union’s fall conference.
Researchers from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and other Earth Institute centers are presenting findings on a rich menu of subjects: climate impacts on food security; the geology of ultra-deep rocks pushing to the surface in Papua New Guinea, where a portion of the earth’s crust is being born; an ancient history of ocean acidification that has implications for our future.
Writers from the Earth Institute are filing stories from here about that research during the week.
A talk Monday by Cynthia Rosenzweig of the Center for Climate Systems Research serves as a good example of how some of the hard science being discussed at AGU intersects directly with human welfare. She outlined the progress of a new global project that will help hundreds of scientists around the world produce more consistent and accurate forecasts of the effects of climate change on food supplies.
Food crises in places such as the Horn of Africa are driven by many factors – including climate extremes, which already affect major agricultural regions around the world. An integrated system of models that can predict changes in food supply and the risk of shortages could help governments and other agencies anticipate and prepare for problems.
“The goal … is to significantly improve the assessment of climate change impacts on agriculture, food security and the risk of hunger,” said Rosenzweig, who also is affiliated with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. She said the project involves more than 400 modelers in both developed and developing countries.
The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) involves trade and scientific organizations, agricultural specialists, climate scientists and economists around the world. It is combining historical data, climate models and pilot studies of many crops to project how future weather might affect farming, and how societies may adapt. They have already begun pilot studies of wheat, maize, rise and sugarcane.
In the wheat pilot program, 25 models are using protocols created by the project to assess how well the models correspond to what is happening on the ground. One example: They are studying how changes in temperature would affect wheat production. While there are many existing models being used already, they often do not use consistent data inputs, or measure across similar time frames. The new project should help reduce the uncertainties associated with such varied approaches.
At the regional level, the project will help planners test strategies for adaptation to climate change. For national governments, the project will help policymakers understand what climate change means for their food production capabilities and economic policies. And internationally, the program will help decision-makers assess the risk of hunger and world food security due to climate change.