The Sky is Falling Friday Part 4: Climate change to deplete some US water basins used for irrigation

Public Release: 12-Jul-2017

By 2050, the Southwest will produce significantly less cotton and forage, researchers report

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A new study by MIT climate scientists, economists, and agriculture experts finds that certain hotspots in the country will experience severe reductions in crop yields by 2050, due to climate change’s impact on irrigation.

The most adversely affected region, according to the researchers, will be the Southwest. Already a water-stressed part of the country, this region is projected to experience reduced precipitation by midcentury. Less rainfall to the area will mean reduced runoff into water basins that feed irrigated fields.

Production of cotton, the primary irrigated crop in the Southwest and in southern Arizona in particular, will drop to less than 10 percent of the crop yield under optimal irrigation conditions, the study projects. Similarly, maize grown in Utah, now only yielding 40 percent of the optimal expected yield, will decrease to 10 percent with further climate-driven water deficits.

In the Northwest, water shortages to the Great Basin region will lead to large reductions in irrigated forage, such as hay, grasses, and other crops grown to feed livestock. In contrast, the researchers predict a decrease in water stress for irrigation in the southern Plains, which will lead to greater yields of irrigated sorghum and soybean.

If efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change, the researchers find that water scarcity and its associated reductions in cotton and forage can be avoided.

“In the Southwest, water availability for irrigation is already a concern,” says first author Elodie Blanc, a research scientist at MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. “If we mitigate, this could prevent added stress associated with climate change and a severe decrease in runoff in the western United States. But it will be even worse in the future if we don’t do anything at all.”

Blanc’s study appears in the journal Earth’s Future, and her co-authors are Erwan Monier, a principal research scientist at MIT; Justin Caron, an assistant professor at HEC Montreal; and Charles Fant, a former MIT postdoc.

While many researchers have investigated the effects of climate change on crop yields, Blanc’s study is one of the first to consider how a changing climate may shape the availability and distribution of water basins on which irrigated crops depend.

“Most modeling studies that look at the impact of climate change on crop yield and the fate of agriculture don’t take into account whether the water available for irrigation will change,” Monier says.

In predicting how climate will affect irrigated crop yields in the future, the researchers also consider factors such as population and economic growth, as well as competing demands for water from various socioeconomic sectors, which are themselves projected to change as the climate warms.

“We try to be as representative of reality as possible,” Blanc says.

To do this, the researchers used a model of 99 major river basins in the country, which they combined with the MIT Integrated Global System Model-Community Atmosphere Model — a set of models that simulates the evolution of economic, demographic, trade, and technological processes. The models also include the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants that result from these processes, and they incorporate all of that information within a global climate model that simulates the physical and chemical processes in the atmosphere, as well as in freshwater and ocean systems.

“We’re looking at a more integrated world, and how all these interactions will drive changes in irrigation,” Monier says.

 

“Severely accentuated” shortages

 

The researchers focused their global simulations on the U. S. and modeled the country’s evolving economic activities in different geographic regions to determine the water requirements for five main sectors: thermoelectric cooling; public supply, such as for drinking water and other public utilities; industrial demand; mining; and irrigation.

They then used a crop model to simulate daily water requirements for various crops, driven by the researchers’ modeled projections of precipitation and temperature, and compared these requirements with the amount of water predicted to be available for irrigation in a particular basin through the year 2050.

“The biggest finding is that it really makes a difference in specific regions, whether you take into account how irrigation availability will change in the future and how that will impact yields,” Monier says.

By 2050, the team projects that, under a business-as-usual scenario, in which no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gases, a number of water basins in the U.S. will start experiencing water shortages. Several basins, particularly in the Southwest, will see existing water shortages “severely accentuated,” according to the study.

The researchers note that the basins that will be the most affected generally do not supply the largest areas of irrigated cropland. For example, though climate change will significantly reduce cotton production in the Southwest, the bulk of the country’s cotton production does not occur in this region.

“It may not matter too much for the total crop production of the U.S., but if you’re a farmer in that particular region that’s going to be impacted, that matters to you,” Monier says. “What we want to do is provide useful information that either farmers or land investors can use to look into the future and make decisions on where is the right region to expand irrigated agriculture, and where is it more risky. We also want to make clear that climate mitigation is better for U.S. irrigated agriculture than not doing anything.”

 

A climate-changing landscape

 

Under the same business-as-usual scenario, the researchers projected higher yields for irrigated crops such as wheat, soybean, and sorghum. The increased production in these crops is driven by higher precipitation predicted to occur in the central U.S., combined with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, which reduces a plant’s water requirements.

The researchers predict that crop yields for wheat, soybean, and sorghum should increase even more if mitigation measures are put in place. In addition to a business-as-usual scenario, the team ran its simulations under two mitigation scenarios, previously proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in which efforts are made to mitigate global warming to 2 and 3 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial times.

They found that both mitigation scenarios should increase yields for all crops compared to the business-as-usual scenario, including cotton and forage, and that the more ambitious scenario has the potential to reduce the number of water-stressed basins.

Going forward, the researchers plan to factor into their simulations various ways in which climate change drives adaptation, and how such adaptations in turn shape crop patterns and the agricultural landscape.

“In the real world, if you’re a farmer and year after year you’re losing yield, you might decide, ‘I’m done farming,’ or switch to another crop that doesn’t require as much water, or maybe you move somewhere else,” Monier says. “That’s the next step: How would the agricultural sector adapt?”

###

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

 

Additional background

Paper: Is Current Irrigation Sustainable in the United States? An Integrated Assessment of Climate Change Impact on Water Resources and Irrigated Crop Yields
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000473/full

ARCHIVE: Gauging the impact of climate change on U.S. agriculture
http://news.mit.edu/2016/gauging-climate-change-impact-on-agriculture-0707

ARCHIVE: Watering the world
http://news.mit.edu/2017/design-cuts-costs-energy-drip-irrigation-0420

ARCHIVE: Climate change to worsen drought, diminish corn yields in Africa
http://news.mit.edu/2017/climate-change-drought-corn-yields-africa-0316

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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111 thoughts on “The Sky is Falling Friday Part 4: Climate change to deplete some US water basins used for irrigation

  1. We move many millions of barrels of oil, thousands of miles everyday in pipelines. Eventually we may figure out that we can move water the same way. Oh, wait, we already do.

      • A large grid is called for. Some parts of the nation are periodically inundated by excess fresh water, which would be quite welcome in the arid portions of the country. Indeed, that was the rationale for positing the existence of the mythical Martian canals by Percival Lowell. Fresh water is possibly the most important resource there is, why would we not put it to good use?

  2. Was supported by EPA and DoE. That was then, not now. Not another nickel for such nonsense under Trump.
    Climate models do not regionally downscale. Arizona water comes from the Colorado Compact and precipitation in the Rockies, not Arizona. Arizona’s 2012 cotton production was valued at $224 million; that year the US crop was valued at ~$6 billion. Arizona’s cotton is less than 5% of US production for a good reason. Utah does not grow enough corn to amount to a hill of beans compared to the Midwest, not even worth getting the numbers. More MIT stuff totally lacking any real world common sense perspective.

    • Farmers always seek out and listen to academics about how to improve there businesses. My snarkyness may be showing.

    • 100%. Water supplies in Florida have tried to use regional downscaling. Depending on which climate models you use (which all hindcast past river flow trends well when provided with historic precipitation), you get results ranging from permanent drought to normal to drastic increases in future rainfall and river flows. They have absolutely zero guidance on future water supply conditions.

      Nationwide, even if you use the same GCM to cover the entire US, the evapotranspiration model you select determines soil moisture content and agricultural potential.

    • Latitude — the trend may be associated with the change of unit used in measuring rainfall — upto 1956 in inches and later in millimeters? Graph is inches.

      Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

      • Reddy ==> The graph is marked inches on the left and millimeters on the right — left for the US and right for rest of the world.

      • Kip Hansen — the point is not the scale in inches or millimeters but the recording in inches upto 1956 wherein observational errors can be more than measuring in millimeters after 1956. This might have contributed to lower values prior to 1956 and thus contributed to increasing trend in rainfall.

        Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  3. Just create more storage capacity. There is no lack of rain and snow.
    There I Just solved the potential problem. Where’s my Nobel Peace prize?

    • You’re not going to it. Your solution allows for more humans, which is against Malthusian tenets. You want a prize – follow the basics of Paul Erhlich. It may be idiocy incarnate, but that road leads to prizes – despite being shown wrong with every passing year.
      It’s the model, Stupid, not reality

    • Storage and pipelines.
      A system of pipelines and reservoirs on the scale of the interstate highway system would do wonders for agriculture.

      An organized and well planned system of large rapid infiltration basins would be a good idea as well.
      There is always too much precipitation in some places and not enough in others.

      • You’re once again insinuating effective geoengineering might be effective. How dare you. We have grants to earn. We don’t do stuff like that. We complain and we scold. That’s our job. You want solutions? Find a farmer.

      • And just where would all this water originate? The Missouri river? Nope. We have droughts also. The Mississippi? Nope. The have navigation issues. More storage capacity would be a start. Large scale desalinization plants would work. But are the recipients of the water going to pay for it? Maybe people shouldn’t try to make a living farming in a desert.

      • “And just where would all this water originate?”
        Seriously?
        Perhaps you missed this part:

        “There is always too much precipitation in some places and not enough in others.”

        Or perhaps you dispute this fact?
        Have you really never noticed that even drought prone regions get periodic flooding?

      • Are you aware that the name of our planet is a misnomer, and calling it planet Water is far more accurate than calling it planet Earth?

      • One need not study human civilization very carefully to learn that large numbers of people have lived for millennia in areas far drier than any large regions of the US.

  4. “How will the agricultural sector adapt???
    They should adapt by creating more water storage closer to their fields needing irrigation.
    Keeping more rainwater on their property instead of letting all of it run off during the wet season

    • Some farmers dig big holes called dugouts to trap the spring melt.

      People aren’t nearly as stupid as the academics think they are. They’ve been on the case since forever. link

    • I’ve personally been involved in such projects, none older than 1957, but still along those lines. Farmers aren’t nearly as stupid as some would believe.

    • in Aus thats now under threat by idiots from the greentard side oflife
      and our signing the Lima agreement which had fine print allowing govt to assess your roof area and then TAX for rainfall on it wether saved or let go to stormwater was one
      local govt tried to tax farm dams is SthAus a while back too.
      now the epa and other mobs are trying to get greater hold over private land waterways and drains etc in Vic,
      see we should allow it all to go TO swamps n streams to dry up in summer
      and BUY water piped in at huge cost, rather than use on farm storage dams/raintanks to buffer the demand on our very few rivers n public water storages.

      the sort of sh*te that only makes sense to the greenaffected ones!

  5. It just keeps getting more surreal. We are meant to take these predictions seriously and even grant them the hallowed term “science” when they depend on climate models for future temperature and rainfall, economic models for future human industry and agriculture, and the crop models for what future seed crops will do under imagined future conditions. There is more reality in Grimm’s fairy tails than in this type of publication. Real scientists understand that computer modelling is hypothesis generation, not hypothesis testing. Models without validation are no better than wild ass guesses.

    • I would say it is much worse that wild ass guessing.
      A bunch of tripping stoners sitting around just dreaming crap up are just as likely to get anything right, but they do not pretend to be doing science.

      • We have long used the term junk science, perhaps for this work that term is too mild, maybe fake science.
        Imagine the $trillions spent by the green blob all based on a false premise-increasing CO2 in the atmosphere by a hundred ppm or so would warm the climate catastrophically.
        Do they still teach chlorophyll and photosynthesis in grade school? The absolute necessity of CO2 for plants and absolute necessity of O2 for animals and humans?

    • I often read articles just to see how the warmists think, but Wallace-Wells is so over the top I couldn’t get through it. I’m sure glad I don’t live in his world.

      • The fundamental flaw in your research program was the hypothesis that warmunists think at all. Think defined not as neuronal activity (of which they plainly have too much, hence the verbiage) but rather common sense fact and logic.

    • Yes.
      This study sounds a bit like when they said last year’s California’s drought was going to be perpetual and, of course, Man made “Climate Change” was the culprit. It only took one year for Nature to say, “Uh … not so fast.”
      Unless Man entered to build those systems to support irrigation of arid areas, that is what they would have remained.

      • It is a startling trend: Long drought stretches out to be a notably awful, pronouncements by the climate mafia that it is not just a temporary condition but permanent, and next thing you know…epic rains for an extended period.
        My guess is that with this report, MIT has just insured that these regions will have bountiful rains on a regular basis by around 2050.

  6. Well, the sky is really falling a lot on this Friday. I can’t remember seeing the sky fall this much since that day when the Little Red Hen baked some bread.

  7. In early 2013 the Great Lakes were at all time lows which was deemed an almost certain indication of global warming, and “the experts” pounded us with stories of falling lake level doom and gloom on a weekly basis. Forward to 2017, the Great Lakes are now near or above all time highs and “the experts” are strangely silent. They couldn’t have been more wrong. If I was an expert I would want to know why I was so dreadfully wrong back in 2012/2013 and let everyone know why things changed. But nope, nothing but crickets from the experts today. Good thing they still have their models to keep gloom and doom alive.

    http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/Great-Lakes-Information/Great-Lakes-Water-Levels/Water-Level-Forecast/Weekly-Great-Lakes-Water-Levels/

    • Agreed! As a software engineer, whenever I tested out some new stuff, and it didn’t work as planned, the “Lessons Learned” report was the most important thing. If you don’t learn from failures, you CAN’T move forwards. And since the ‘warmunists’ started from a loooong way back…

      • Problem is that they don’t believe they have any failures. Most have already figured out that they want be around when there predictions fail to come true. The entire AGW world also tells them how wonderful they are. So for them there are no lessons learned. Hey, they probably grew up in places where when sports were played they didn’t keep score and everyone got a participation trophy.

  8. Never mind climate change. If people deplete their underlying water, the land will soon subside. Mexico City is subsiding about three feet per year. link No climate change is needed, just people using water too fast. The solution is often canals, pipes, aqueducts, or tunnels to the mountains. I am particularly fascinated by these ancient tunnels in Afghanistan.

    I am regularly appalled at the apparent low level of general education of PhDs. They say the stupidest things because they have no clue about what goes on in the world outside their very narrow specialization.

    • I once managed a lot of “scientists” with advanced degrees. The younger they were the less general education they seemed to have. Besides not even knowing what Scientific Method was, they didn’t know what a paragraph was, a sentence needed a verb, or when the signed their name it meant something legally. The very worst were those that had gone straight through school from kindergarten to their PhD and had never worked outside academia. Some of those were broken toys, never to be fixed and a pain to manage.

  9. Per the study:

    “Going forward, the researchers plan to factor into their simulations various ways in which climate change drives adaptation, and how such adaptations in turn shape crop patterns and the agricultural landscape.”

    “In the real world, if you’re a farmer and year after year you’re losing yield, you might decide, ‘I’m done farming,’ or switch to another crop that doesn’t require as much water, or maybe you move somewhere else,” Monier says. “That’s the next step: How would the agricultural sector adapt?””

    In the real world and you are a researcher that depends on Government grant monies from EPA & the Dept of Energy, and year after your predictions are wrong & wronger, you might decide ‘I’m done with research,’ or you’ll switch to another simulation scenario that describes the guesses based on the initial incorrect guesses, or maybe you’ll just move somewhere else.

    But to give credit where it’s due. He does recognize that there is a “real world” outside of his model … but does he continue to ignore it?

  10. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned that CO2 enrichment can dramatically reduce a plant’s requirement for water? link We may need a lot less water to produce the same amount of plant material.

      • :) good one.
        What hurts more is that I have three degrees from the other end of Cambridge Mass and they are worse, not better, onnthis stuff.

      • It figures that ristvan and Obama attended the same school. It explains Rud’s incoherence and lack of logic.

      • Golly Md, not just insults, but unprovoked and right out-of-the-blue insults.
        Nice.
        That means you have the winning argument, right?

  11. With 2.5 months to go, this water year in northern California is still at 193% of the average water year, which is based on records going from 1922 to 1998.

  12. Two other water years of note are 1982 and 1998 which were respectively 177% and 165% of that same average. All three are associated with major El Nino events. So as long as there are future major EL Nino weather conditions water will inundate California occasionally Too bad the state can’t figure out a way to trap some of that water that was dumped this past spring and summer. Rivers are still running full into San Francisco bay. It ought to be a crime.

    • I think that predicting that these clowns will be featured in many books, lectures and classes on how not to do science will come close to hitting the nail on the head.
      Either that or everyone will just studiously try to forget this whole embarrassing farce, although that seems hard to imagine.

  13. with the MIT Integrated Global System Model-Community Atmosphere Model — a set of models that simulates the evolution of economic, demographic, trade, and technological processes.

    That would be after massaging rather than fitting but the quote is still applicable

    With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.

  14. Well, I am happy to see that the amazing science of climastrology is alive and well and making crap up off of the tops of their heads at MIT.
    I wonder if they will ever get around to doing any ACTUAL science again?

  15. If you have read all the parts of this series of posts, and you want some more amusing, but really inane climate hysteria, try this:

    “The Uninhabitable Earth, Annotated Edition: The facts, research, and science behind the climate-change article that explored our planet’s worst-case scenarios.” By David Wallace-Wells on July 14, 2017.
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans-annotated.html

    “I also believe very firmly in the set of propositions that animated the project from the start: that the public does not appreciate the scale of climate risk; that this is in part because we have not spent enough time contemplating the scarier half of the distribution curve of possibilities, especially its brutal long tail, or the risks beyond sea-level rise; that there is journalistic and public-interest value in spreading the news from the scientific community, no matter how unnerving it may be; and that, when it comes to the challenge of climate change, public complacency is a far, far bigger problem than widespread fatalism — that many, many more people are not scared enough than are already “too scared.” In fact, I don’t even understand what “too scared” would mean. The science says climate change threatens nearly every aspect of human life on this planet, and that inaction will hasten the problems. In that context, I don’t think it’s a slur to call an article, or its writer, alarmist. I’ll accept that characterization. We should be alarmed.”

  16. The real issues of climate and climate change on agriculture werediscussed in the following three books:

    Agroclimatic/Agrometeorological Techniques: As applicable to dry-land agriculture in developing countries, 1993

    Andhra Pradesh Agriculture: Scenario of the last four decades, 2000

    “Green” Green Revolution: Agriculture in the perspective of Climate Change”, 2011

    In Agriculture, the principal factor that affect the production is rainfall and storage facilities including sols. If the rainfall presents a cyclic variation, the temperature follow the rhythm. This is defined by the crop-soil-water balance. So far there are no indications that world rainfall is changing with GW. This is also stated by IPCC in its AR5.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    • Where the Duke got it right is from 8:14 to 8:24, “…political appointees running it according what they learned in some college where they think cows are something you milk and Indians are something you find in front of a cigar store”.

      Never trust anybody that hasn’t “been there”!

  17. There is a known reduction in the levels of aquifers such as the Ogallala. I don’t deny this.

    To connect this to climate change is a fool’s errand. The record doesn’t show a reduction in rainfall. The only thing that has changed is the number of wells that are pumping from aquifers. Climate has nothing to do with it. Trying to grow crops on arid land has everything to do with it

    Having grown up in the central US I have memories of fields of nothing but winter wheat or milo all across central and western Kansas. Last summer I was traveling and was shocked by the many fields of corn in western Kansas. Corn is a water intensive crop and the only way to it grow in the arid plains of western Kansas is to pump huge amounts of water from aquifers.

    Doesn’t take a scientist to understand this is the cause of the aquifer reduction. The fact farmers are raising dent corn in these areas speaks more to the price of corn than climate change.

    • Areas overlaying the Ogallala have had epic flooding in recent years, and yet no provisions are made for using these waters to recharge the aquifer by means of engineered recharge basins.

  18. Weird research focusing on the uncertain future.

    Over-exploitation of the Ogallala Aquifer is a real threat and almost totally ignored, though we can be more certain of its impact on long-term prospects for agricultural communities in several states.

    Plus the energy used to pump Ogallala water produces lots of GHG emissions that, according to conventional wisdom, are a threat to agricultural communities.

    Bizarre.

  19. Quote: Already a water-stressed part of the country, this region is projected to experience reduced precipitation by midcentury.

    Just an idle curiosity. Can anybody recall any of these projections actually being remotely accurate?

  20. An idea for the next Hollywood Sci-Fi movie:

    Carbon-based lifeforms on a distant planet, 70% covered with water and with far less carbon than elsewhere in the universe, start prognosticating water shortages in over 30 years unless carbon is reduced. Nah, too incredible. Oh, wait…

  21. ” a water-stressed part of the country”

    Liberal wording for a desert. Just like “high challenged” for short people and “weight challenged” for fat people.

  22. Funny how the “scientists” always have to invent or extrapolate some kind of “effect” far in the future to try keeping the climate-weirding money-train rolling. Often the scenarios are absolutely absurd — like your wing-wang causing global warming. They can’t EVER come up with something that’s actually happening.

  23. Did the account for the well-proven fact that with higher CO2 levels, plants need less water and are MORE tolerant of drought? And did the consider that over the next 28 years that new cultivars of those crops will be developed for the new conditions?

  24. Riiiiight…… Build a model to support the conclusions you slready decided in advance and somehow that somehow is valid? Seems ten years ago they were using models that predicted our food crop yields would be collapsing within the decade. Until you have a model that is proven reliable you sure in the heck shouldn’t be using it to set policy! This climate agenda is downright nauseating.

  25. Maybe if we were to stop burning 40% of our US corn crop as motor fuel, it would free up some land in less arid areas for other crops. Maize in Utah? Seriously?

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