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The median deviation of simulated 2012 county-level yields from linear trend as a percentage of county-specific trend yields from 1979 to 2011. Image courtesy Joshua Elliot.

The median deviation of simulated 2012 county-level yields from linear trend as a percentage of county-specific trend yields from 1979 to 2011. Image courtesy Joshua Elliot.

[This article ran originally at International Science Grid This Week. Reprinted with permission.]

In 2012, the United States suffered its worst agricultural drought in 24 years. Farmland across the country experienced a devastating combination of high temperatures and low precipitation, leading to the worst harvest yields in nearly two decades. At its peak, nearly two-thirds of the country experienced drought conditions according to the US Drought Monitor. Worse still, instead of an anomalous year of bad weather, 2012 may have provided an alarming preview of how climate change will impact the future of agriculture.

These warning signs make 2012 an ideal year for validating crop yield and climate impact models that simulate the effects of climate on agriculture. Current climate change models predict that global temperatures could rise several degrees over the next century, making hotter growing seasons the new norm and truly extreme seasons (like 2012) more commonplace.

“A world four degrees warmer than it is now is not a world that we’ve ever seen before,” says Joshua Elliott, a fellow at the Computation Institute and the Center for Robust Decision-Making on Climate and Energy Policy. “Studying years like 2012 in detail can potentially be very useful for helping us understand whether our models can hope to accurately capture the future.”

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