Fertile soil, good seasons, and plentiful water aren’t the only things that affect our crops. Air pollution, and one air pollutant in particular, negatively affect the number of crops we can grow.
Using satellite imaging, Stanford researchers discovered just how many nitrogen oxides affect our crops and how we’d benefit by reducing them.
An invisible problem
Nitrogen oxides are one of the most commonly emitted pollutants in the world. They come from car exhaust and industrial emissions, and they directly harm the cells of crops. For such a significant pollutant, though, it can be hard to spot.
“Nitrogen oxides are invisible to humans, but new satellites have been able to map them with incredibly high precision. Since we can also measure crop production from space, this opened up the chance to rapidly improve our knowledge of how these gasses affect agriculture in different regions,” said study lead author David Lobell, the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.
This gas is a known contributor to the formation of ozone, which reduces crop yield, and particulate matter that absorbs and scatters sunlight.
The study shows that reducing nitrous oxide emissions around the world would cause a 25 percent increase in winter crop yields and 15 percent for summer crops in China. In Western Europe, it would be 10 for both, and India would get a six percent increase in winter and 8 percent in summer. This pattern shows the parts of the world where Nitrogen Oxides are most prevalent and creates ozone. North and South America have very low Nitrogen Oxide levels.
How do we limit NOx levels?
“The actions you would take to reduce NOx, such as vehicle electrification, overlap closely with the types of energy transformations needed to slow climate change and improve local air quality for human health,” said co-author Jennifer Burney, associate professor of environmental science at the University of California, San Diego. “The main take-home from this study is that the agricultural benefits of these actions could be really substantial, enough to help ease the challenge of feeding a growing population.”
So, the stated climate goal measures are what need to be done to improve crop yields and better feed the future. And it’s been proven by past data too. Lobell and Burney’s previous research showed that decreases in ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide in 1999 and 200 led to a 20 percent increase in corn and soybean yields in the US.
Using less gas, going electric for cars, and supporting renewable resources could help reduce global temperature rise while also improving crop yields.
Source Study: Science Advances — Globally ubiquitous negative effects of nitrogen dioxide on crop growth (science.org)