Jan. 19 (UPI) -- New computer models predict U.S. crop harvests will be adversely affected by climate change.
According to a new report published in the journal Nature Communications, wheat, maize and soybean are all at risk of suffering depressed yields as temperatures rise.
"We know from observations that high temperatures can harm crops, but now we have a much better understanding of the processes," lead study author Bernhard Schauberger, a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said in a news release. "The computer simulations that we do are based on robust knowledge from physics, chemistry, biology; on a lot of data and elaborate algorithms."
But try as they might, scientists and their models can't account for everything. So researchers compare their predictions to real world observations to ensure they're on the right track.
Researchers were able to synch their simulations with crop data, helping them account for the impact of CO2, irrigation and fertilization on the relationship between heat and crop health.
Scientists found for each additional day with temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, maize and soybean yields are reduced by 5 percent. Harvests could be 20 percent smaller by 2100 if global warming isn't curtailed, researchers warned in their new study.
"The losses got substantially reduced when we increased irrigation of fields in the simulation, so water stress resulting from temperature increase seems to be a bigger factor than the heat itself," said Joshua Elliott, a researcher at the University of Chicago.
While irrigation can mitigate some of the negative impact of extreme heat on crop yields, many regions don't have the water resources to accommodate the needs of increasingly stressed crops. More frequent drought conditions are likely to tax water resources in many parts of the U.S.