MU study says change in rain patterns could have impact on agriculture


MU research data taken from the Goodwater Creek Experimental Watershed shows a trend toward continued increases in rainfall in March and April and lower total rainfall in the summer months, particularly August. This could be problematic for farmers, who typically plant in April and may need to either modify the kinds of seeds they plant or adjust their schedules altogether to account for an early and heavy rain, with increased probability of a late drought. Photo by Inge Maria.

The projected future rainfall in the Goodwater Creek Experimental Watershed in Missouri is trending towards an increase in more frequent and more intense rainfall in the spring, along with a greater chance of drought during the summer months, and a Mizzou Engineering study illustrating this could potentially show the impact of climate change on rainfall for farmers statewide.

Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Assistant Professor Christine Costello, Bioengineering Professor Allen Thompson and Bioengineering graduate students Sagar Gautam and Quang Phung partnered with the Salt River Project and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit to publish “Assessing Long-Term Hydrological Impact of Climate Change Using an Ensemble Approach and Comparison with Global Gridded Model-A Case Study on Goodwater Creek Experimental Watershed,” in the journal Water.

“I think a lot of farmers in Missouri have experience with this or are aware of this probability of the recurrence of a lot of high rainfall events happening in early spring,” Costello explained. “These models suggest that will continue.”

The study used what’s called an ensemble projection, which uses a variety of different projections about future daily temperature and rainfall simulated by global climate modeling efforts around the globe. Multiple projections of future conditions are utilized to get a fuller scope of what the future may hold. The team of researchers used 12 different future climate projections and input these data into a hydrology model to see how future climate possibilities may impact the water cycle in the Goodwater Creek Experimental Watershed, which is located west of Hannibal.

“The idea is based on the fact that with 12 different outputs, researchers have found the average of these results to be more accurate than any individual model by representing a range of possible future conditions” Costello said.

What the data shows is a trend toward continued increases in rainfall in March and April and lower total rainfall in the summer months, particularly August. This could be problematic for farmers, who typically plant in April and may need to either modify the kinds of seeds they plant or adjust their schedules altogether to account for an early and heavy rain, with increased probability of a late drought.

“We have claypan soils here, so early-season rain can prevent the mobilization of equipment. There have been instances where if they’ve already planted the seed, it can wash out,” Costello said. “They may have to buy new seed, different seed or just not plant.”

The study should benefit plant scientists, who are hard at work coming up with different seeds and ways to mitigate the impact of early-season rainfall, late-season drought on farmers.



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