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Antarctic Ice Collapse Could Devastate Global Food Supply

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By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian

The ongoing collapse of a large part of the Antarctica ice sheet could devastate global food supply, drowning vast areas of crop lands across the Middle East and Asia, according to new research.

A new report urges the Obama Administration to step up research funding – especially in developing countries – to help make up a projected gap in future food supply.
Credit: janet747/flickr

The report, Advancing Global Food Supply in the Face of a Changing Climate, urges the Obama Administration to step up research funding – especially in developing countries – to help make up a projected gap in future food supply.

It also warns America's Corn Belt could face yield declines of more than 25 percent by mid-century - unless there are new advances in agriculture to compensate for hotter temperatures, changing rainfall and more aggressive weeds and pests under climate change.

The report, due to be released at a high-level conference in Washington, DC on Thursday, is the first to factor in the effects of the slow-motion collapse of the Western Antarctica ice sheet on future food security.

Two independent studies last week warned the retreat of the Western Antarctica ice sheet was unstoppable – and could lead to sea-level rise of up to 4 meters (13 feet) over the coming centuries.

Those rising seas would displace millions of people from low-lying coastal areas - and wipe out rice-growing areas across Asia, Gerald Nelson, a University of Illinois economist and author of Thurday's report, said.

"That sea-level rise would take out half of Bangladesh and mostly wipe out productive rice regions in Vietnam," Nelson told The Guardian. "It would have a major effect on Egyptian agricultural areas."

The projected levels of sea-level rise, due to the retreat of ice in West Antarctica, pose a far greater threat to future food supply even than that envisaged in the United Nations' IPCC report in March, Nelson said.

"A sea level rise of 3 meters (10 feet) over the next 100 years is much more likely than the IPCC thought possible," the report said.

In terms of absolute land loss, China would be at risk of losing more than 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres). Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar could lose more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres), the report said.

Farmland in Bangladesh are at risk of sea level rises, the food security report warns.
Credit: Alamy via The Guardian

The potential loss of viable crop land underscores the urgent need for new breakthrough technologies to increase agricultural productivity to keep pace with growing world population, the report said.

"Agriculture is a huge world-wide industry that requires stable weather, 'or else,' and we might just be entering the 'or else' period," Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary under Bill Clinton and a co-chairman of the conference, told The Guardian.

"The question is: 'are we doing the right kind of research at our universities, at the department of agriculture, or in the private sector to deal with those changes? We need more and more applied research to help us move those numbers up. That is the real challenge for scientists."

The increasing agricultural yields of the last 50 years have already slowed down or plateaued – even before climate change is taken into account. By mid-century, those declines will make it increasingly difficult for farmers to maintain the increases in crop yields needed to feed a growing population.

According to some computer models included in the report, projected growth in yields in America's Corn Belt could drop by 25 percent by 2050– unless there are breakthroughs in agricultural research – because of higher temperatures, uncertain rainfall, and more aggressive weeds and pests under climate change.

"We have got to figure out how to get plants to continue performance when average temperatures go up, and we don't know how to do that," Nelson said. "We need 60 percent more food generally, and this will make it harder to get there," he said.

Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

Comments

By Jeff Green (Frankfort Illinois 60423)
on May 25th, 2014

“A sea level rise of 3 meters (10 feet) over the next 100 years is much more likely than the IPCC thought possible


http://rt.com/usa/158504-antarctic-ice-melting-climate-change/

Researchers warned that the accelerated pace of disintegration is expected to remain relatively slow over the next 100 years, although after that point it will speed up so fast that it could become a major issue for seaside cities.

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I’m not getting the sense that there is talk of 10 ft. over the next 100 years.

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By john harkness
on May 26th, 2014

Can this quote be confirmed from other sources: “A sea level rise of 3 meters (10 feet) over the next 100 years is much more likely than the IPCC thought possible”

It is certainly of utmost importance to all coastal communities, home to a huge portion of the total global population, to know exactly how much sea level rise is possible and probable in the next few decades and centuries in light of the latest research.

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By john harkness
on May 26th, 2014

When you wrote:<< “A sea level rise of 3 meters (10 feet) over the next 100 years is much more likely than the IPCC thought possible,” the report said.>>

Did you mean to write <<Nelson said>>?

Also, the link to the report isn’t very helpful. Is there a link that goes more directly to an accessible version of the report.

Thanks loads for this post, but any more light you could throw on exactly how much additional sea level rise we can expect from these sources in the next few decades would be enormously helpful to the world.

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By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on May 26th, 2014

This says that there will be 13 feet or so of additional sea level rise in the longer term just due to the irreversible deterioration of the West Antarctic ice Sheet. It also states that 10 feet of global mean sea level rise in just 100 years now looks possible – clearly with greater increases to come after that. That’s a truly significant jump upwards in the rate of sea level rise from that of previous mainstream estimates which tend to center on about 3 feet in 100 years.

Obviously, this much sea level rise would destroy many areas of coastal and also some inland infrastructure and by so doing threaten the supply of essential basic resources in general – not just food. Agricultural research may help some aspects of the ensuing disasters but overall you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there would be a lot to adapt to for a lot of people all around the world.

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