Combined Influence of Soil Moisture and Atmospheric Evaporative Demand Is Important for Accurately Predicting US Maize Yields
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CitationRigden, A. J, N. D Mueller, N. M Holbrook, N Pillai, and P Huybers. 2020. “Combined Influence of Soil Moisture and Atmospheric Evaporative Demand Is Important for Accurately Predicting US Maize Yields.” Nature Food 1 (2): 127–33.
AbstractUnderstanding the response of agriculture to heat and moisture stress is essential to adapt food systems under climate change. Although evidence of crop yield loss with extreme temperature is abundant, disentangling the roles of temperature and moisture in determining yield has proven challenging, largely due to the limited soil moisture data and the tight coupling between moisture and temperature at the land surface. Here, using well-resolved observations of soil moisture from the recently launched Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, we quantified the contribution of imbalances between atmospheric evaporative demand and soil moisture to maize yield damages in the U.S. Midwest. We show that retrospective yield predictions based on the interactions between atmospheric demand and soil moisture significantly outperform those using temperature and precipitation singly or together. The importance of accounting for this water balance is highlighted by the fact that climate simulations uniformly predict increases in atmospheric demand during the growing season but root-zone soils that are variously drier or wetter. A damage estimate conditioned only on simulated changes in atmospheric demand, as opposed to also accounting for changes in soil-moisture, would erroneously indicate approximately twice the damage. This research demonstrates that more accurate predictions of maize yield can be achieved by using soil moisture data and indicates that accurate estimates of how climate change will influence crop yields requires explicitly accounting for variations in water availability.
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