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NRC On Impacts Of Rising Temperatures

by Cheryl Hogue
July 26, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 30

A report from the National Research Council estimates how much change in precipitation and crop yields may occur for each degree of human-caused global warming. The report differs from other analyses by linking these changes to global average temperature rise rather than to atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. Most of the effects of climate change will stem from rising temperatures, says Katharine Hayhoe, a member of the NRC committee that prepared the report. A notable exception is ocean acidification, which will result from increased CO2 levels, adds Hayhoe, an associate professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University. The report estimates a reduction in rainfall of 5–10% in southwestern North America, the Mediterranean area, and southern Africa per degree Celsius of warming. In addition, the report projects crop yields will fall 5–15% per degree for corn grown in the U.S. and Africa and for wheat in India. These estimates apply for global warming in the range of 1 to 4 °C. The report stops short of making recommendations for stabilizing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. “Scientists can’t make the decisions of how much risk is acceptable. That’s a political decision,” Hayhoe explains. “Rather, we’re trying to give policymakers the information they need to make these decisions.”


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