Ground level ozone, not to be confused with the ozone layer in the stratosphere, is considered one of the more dangerous components of air pollution. While its impacts on human health are well known, its effects on agriculture are not as well studied.
Ozone is toxic to many plant species and tends to increase with temperature. Using supercomputers at the National Science Foundation’s facility in Wyoming, Dr. Colette Heald and her team integrated models for ozone pollution with the anticipated impacts of climate change on global crop yields.
Many are familiar with the link between temperature and crop production. But most don’t realize how damaging ozone can also be for plants.
– Dr. Colette L. Heald
Projecting out to 2050, they discovered that while wheat is less sensitive to the shifting weather patterns in the U.S. than corn, wheat is more sensitive to ozone. Dr. Heald’s work suggests that adaptation efforts replacing corn with wheat should be coupled with initiatives limiting ozone pollution to maximize production. While the team estimated that the combination of air pollution and the changing climate would reduce global food production 2050 by up to 15 percent, cleaning up ozone emissions would reduce this to 11 percent.
Dr. Heald’s team will tackle particulate pollution next, creating another layer of understanding in the effort to improve agricultural planning over the coming decades.