Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Wheat-growing regions are likely to experience more frequent, severe and prolonged droughts if climate change continues unabated, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.
Wheat crops account for 20 percent of the calories consumed by humans. According to the latest research, as much 60 percent of those crops could be harmed by climate change.
Scientists used climate models to predict the likelihood of prolonged, severe droughts simultaneously impacting wheat-growing regions under a range of warming scenarios. If global warming ended today, around 15 percent of the world's wheat crops would face an increased risk of being impacted by a large drought.
If policy changes and emissions reductions limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as much as 30 percent of the world's wheat growing areas could expect to experience water scarcity simultaneously.
"This clearly suggests that that global warming will affect food production," Song Feng, an associate professor of geosciences at the University of Arkansas, said in a news release.
To predict the risk of simultaneous drought conditions, scientists ran a total of 27 climate models under three different climate scenarios. The effort required a lot of data and computing power.
"It was terabytes of information, and it took a couple months and multiple computers to run," Feng said.
In addition to forecasting the future, Feng and his research partners analyzed the historic effects of drought on food production. They found a close correlation between the total area of crop acreage affected by a severe drought and increases in food princes.
With an increasingly globalized economy, widespread disruption to production and supply chains -- whether wheat or palm oil -- can produce a cascade of negative economic effects.
"If only one country or region sees a drought there is less impact," Feng said. "But if multiple regions are affected simultaneously, it can affect global production and food prices, and lead to food insecurity."
What's more, research suggests modern agricultural practices have privileged crop yields over resiliency and adaptability. One study showed that if Dust Bowl conditions were replicated today, modern grain crops would be obliterated.