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Climate change could boost cotton yields

BOULDER--A new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has found that cotton yields are likely to increase in the southeastern United States if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise as projected this century and if farmers adapt their agricultural practices to the resulting climate change. The findings are being presented this week in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The researchers entered various scenarios into their computer models to simulate the effects of elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere on cotton crop yields. If CO2 emissions increase at their present rate, many scientists believe that the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to double compared to pre-industrial levels by the year 2060.

Along with climate change, atmospheric CO2 enhances plant growth by stimulating photosynthesis. In one scenario, adaptations to farming practices resulting from a lengthened growing season, elevated CO2- induced climate change, and enhanced plant growth were all factored into model simulations. The results predict that cotton yields would increase by as much as 26-36%.

"Cotton is a very important economic crop for U.S. agriculture," says NCAR's Linda Mearns, a co-author of the study. "This is the first time impacts of climate change on cotton production have been examined at this level of detail on a regional scale." Nevertheless, explains NCAR co-author Ruth Doherty, these cotton model projections are simplistic. For example, the climate models project climate change based on an instantaneous doubling of CO2, when in reality such increases would occur gradually over this century, possibly changing the outcomes. Still, in most of the scenarios there was a trend towards increased cotton yields in the future.

Two climate models were used in the study--a large-scale global climate mo
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Contact: Anatta
anatta@ucar.edu
303-497-8604
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
12-Dec-2001


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