Study predicts large regional changes in farmland area

Mar 25, 2011
University of Illinois professor Ximing Cai and graduate student Xiao Zhang predict that the effects of climate change and population growth on agricultural land areas will vary from region to region. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

The effects of climate change and population growth on agricultural land area vary from region to region, according to a new study by University of Illinois researchers.

Regions with relative high latitudes – China, Russia and the U.S. – could see a significant increase in arable land in coming years, but Africa, Europe and India and South America could lose land area.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Ximing Cai and graduate student Xiao Zhang published their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

While most other studies of climate change and agriculture have focused on projected crop yields, the Illinois researchers assessed global and regional land availability. Using international land and climate datasets and remote-sensing land-use maps, they systematically studied worldwide changes in soil temperature and humidity with a resolution of one square kilometer.

"This study presents the main patterns and trends of the distribution of potential arable land and the possible impacts of climate change from a biophysical perspective," Cai said. "The possible gains and losses of arable land in various regions worldwide may generate tremendous impacts in the upcoming decades upon regional and global agricultural commodity production, demand and trade, as well as on the planning and development of agricultural and engineering infrastructures."

Cai and Zhang's model allowed them to address the many sources of uncertainty in trying to predict climate change, such as levels of greenhouse gas emissions, climate model uncertainty and ambiguity in land-use classification. They applied the model to several projected scenarios to uncover both regional and global trends in land availability.

When considering effects of , residential sprawl as population grows and natural conservation, the global total of potential arable land in all scenarios decreased by the end of the 21st century, by a margin of 0.8 to 4.4 percent. However, much larger changes were predicted regionally. For example, arable land area could increase by 37 to 67 percent in Russia, while Africa could lose up to 18 percent of its farmland.

"Although the magnitudes of the projected changes vary by scenario, the increasing or decreasing trends in arable land area are regionally consistent," Cai said.

Next, the researchers will conduct more detailed regional studies to confirm their global findings. They hope to use their projections to evaluate world food production, demand and trade, and the corresponding implications for policies and investments.

Explore further: New research shows temperatures vary block by block

More information: The paper, "Climate Change Impacts on Global Agricultural Land Availability," is available online at iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/1/014014

Related Stories

Study estimates land available for biofuel crops

Jan 10, 2011

Using detailed land analysis, Illinois researchers have found that biofuel crops cultivated on available land could produce up to half of the world's current fuel consumption – without affecting food crops or pastureland.

Land conversion and climate threaten land birds

Jun 05, 2007

Land conversion and climate change have already had significant impacts on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.Using future land-cover projections from the recently completed Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Walter ...

Global tropical forests threatened by 2100

Aug 05, 2010

By 2100 only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals making up ecosystems in global, humid tropical forests may remain as we know them today, according to a new study led by Greg Asner at the Carnegie Institution's ...

Increasing levels of phosphate in farmland soil

Jan 24, 2011

Phosphate levels in arable farmland have risen over the past thirty years, despite the restrictive policy on manure. This is the conclusion of Alterra (part of Wageningen UR) researchers in the journal Soil Use & Management.

Recommended for you

The underestimated risk of ethanol fireplaces

4 hours ago

Ethanol fireplaces are becoming more and more popular. However, they are not only highly combustible – in the past, severe accents have occurred repeatedly with decorative fireplaces. The devices also pollute ...

New research shows temperatures vary block by block

4 hours ago

This summer has seen the temperature rise above the severe heat mark of 90 degrees just five times, with the latest happening Wednesday afternoon. That's far fewer times than in an average New York summer.

Could Iceland volcano disrupt air travel?

7 hours ago

Following further reports of seismic activity around volcanoes in Iceland, scientists from the University's Department of Meteorology provide comment on the likelihood of an eruption - and how any ash plume ...

User comments : 0