Understanding the response of agriculture to environmental stressors is essential to adapt food systems to climate change. Although evidence of crop yield loss with extreme temperature is abundant, quantifying the large-scale response of crop yield to water availability has proven challenging due to limited on-the-ground observations. In this work, we utilize well-resolved observations from satellites and an ecologically-based statistical model to discern the crop yield response to daily imbalances in the water cycle. We integrate these observation-based response functions with climate model output to predict future yields. Through a series of case studies, we demonstrate that the level of vulnerability to climate change is both region and crop specific. For example, we find a low sensitivity of maize yield in the U.S. Midwest to climate change due to the current, near-optimal growing conditions. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, we find that increases in temperature may have profound adverse effects on agricultural, specifically in present-day, semi-arid regions. Identifying these vulnerable regions is critical to develop effective adaptation strategies and ensure food security in future climate scenarios.
Dr. Angela Rigden is a hydrologist interested in understanding connections between the water cycle, climate, and vegetation, especially pertaining to agriculture. Angela completed her Ph.D. in Earth Science at Boston University under the supervision of Dr. Guido Salvucci. Her dissertation explored the sources of variability in terrestrial water cycling, finding that vegetation plays a key role in modulating multi-decadal trends in evaporation. Angela received a B.S. in Biological Engineering from Cornell University. As Planetary Health Fellow at Harvard University, Angela is leveraging her expertise in hydrology to explore how changes in water availability affect food production in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her approach synthesizes data from a wide range of observational platforms, including satellites, weather stations, and agricultural surveys. She also plans to collaborate with local stakeholders in Africa to incorporate data that have hitherto not been accessible, and interpret the implications of her findings.