Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click on 'Find out more' to see our Cookie statement.

Researchers at Oxford University, together with and international colleagues, have discovered jet stream patterns that could affect up to a quarter of global food production.

Parched and cracked earth

In a new study published today in Nature Climate Change, scientists show how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of co-occurring heatwaves in major food producing regions of Northern America, Western Europe and Asia. Their research finds that these simultaneous heatwaves significantly reduce crop production across those regions, creating the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching societal consequences, including social unrest.

Lead author, Dr Kai Kornhuber from the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics and Colombia University’s Earth Institute, said: ‘Co-occurring heatwaves will become more severe in the coming decades if greenhouse gases are not mitigated. In an interconnected world, this can lead to food price spikes and have impacts on food availability even in remote regions not directly affected by heatwaves.

‘We found a 20-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop producing regions when these global scale wind patterns are in place. Until now this was an underexplored vulnerability in the food system. We have found that during these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation. The bell can ring in multiple regions at once and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously.’

Western North America, Western Europe and the Caspian Sea region are particularly susceptible to these atmospheric patterns that get heat and drought locked into one place simultaneously where they then affect crops production yields.

Dr Dim Coumou, co-author from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam, said: ‘Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere but these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production.’

Dr Elisabeth Vogel, co-author from Melbourne University, said: ‘During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern.’

Dr Radley Horton, co-author from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Colombia University, said: ‘If climate models are unable to reproduce these wave patterns, risk managers such as reinsurers and food security experts may face a blind spot when assessing how simultaneous heat waves and their impacts could change in a warming climate.’

The scientists conclude that a thorough understanding of what drives this jet stream behaviour could ultimately improve seasonal predictions of agricultural production at the global scale and inform risk assessments of harvest failures across multiple food-producing regions.

Story courtesy of the University of Oxford News Office

Similar stories

The ocean urgently needs truly collaborative science between partners - Oxford scientists

Research Zoology

To ensure a prosperous ocean now and in the future, marine research must offer clear recommendations based on representative information and demonstrate practical pathways, according to new research from Oxford University, the charity Nekton and the Seychelles Environment Ministry.

One of the world’s most secretive mammals photographed in WildCRU’s Togo survey

Research Zoology

Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have confirmed that they have captured the first ever images of Walter’s duiker (Philantomba walteri) alive in the wild.

African elephants only occupy a fraction of their potential range

Research Zoology

Many wildlife species are threatened by shrinking habitat. But according to new research from the Department of Zoology, the potential range of African elephants could be more than five times larger than its current extent.

Oxford research given significant boost to develop lithium-rich battery cathodes

Materials science Research

A team of scientists, including those based at the University of Oxford as part of the Faraday Institution CATMAT project, researching next-generation cathode materials have made a significant breakthrough in understanding oxygen-redox processes involved in lithium-rich cathode materials.

Lack of prey is causing puffin chicks to starve leading to population declines

Research Zoology

New research from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology has used innovative technology to study causes of declines in puffin populations in the northeast Atlantic, and found that a lack of prey near some major breeding colonies is driving puffin chicks to starve, ultimately leading to population declines.

Could South African mine wastes provide a feasible storage method for millions of tonnes of CO2?

Climate change Engineering Research

An article written for the University's Science Blog by Liam Bullock (Engineering Science), Zakhele Nkosi and Maxwell Amponsah-Dacosta.

Similar stories

The ocean urgently needs truly collaborative science between partners - Oxford scientists

Research Zoology

To ensure a prosperous ocean now and in the future, marine research must offer clear recommendations based on representative information and demonstrate practical pathways, according to new research from Oxford University, the charity Nekton and the Seychelles Environment Ministry.

One of the world’s most secretive mammals photographed in WildCRU’s Togo survey

Research Zoology

Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have confirmed that they have captured the first ever images of Walter’s duiker (Philantomba walteri) alive in the wild.

African elephants only occupy a fraction of their potential range

Research Zoology

Many wildlife species are threatened by shrinking habitat. But according to new research from the Department of Zoology, the potential range of African elephants could be more than five times larger than its current extent.

Oxford research given significant boost to develop lithium-rich battery cathodes

Materials science Research

A team of scientists, including those based at the University of Oxford as part of the Faraday Institution CATMAT project, researching next-generation cathode materials have made a significant breakthrough in understanding oxygen-redox processes involved in lithium-rich cathode materials.

Lack of prey is causing puffin chicks to starve leading to population declines

Research Zoology

New research from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology has used innovative technology to study causes of declines in puffin populations in the northeast Atlantic, and found that a lack of prey near some major breeding colonies is driving puffin chicks to starve, ultimately leading to population declines.

Could South African mine wastes provide a feasible storage method for millions of tonnes of CO2?

Climate change Engineering Research

An article written for the University's Science Blog by Liam Bullock (Engineering Science), Zakhele Nkosi and Maxwell Amponsah-Dacosta.