Drought in China adds pressure to world food prices

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:49 AM GMT on February 23, 2011

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The soil lies cracked and broken in China's Shangdong Province, thirsting for rains that will not come. China's key wheat producing region, lying just south of Beijing, has received just 12 millimeters (1/2 inch) of rain since September, according to the Chinese news service Xinhua. If no rains come during the remainder of February, it could become the worst drought in 200 years. The latest precipitation forecast from the GFS ensemble model predicts the possibility of rains of around 1/2 inch for Shandong Province early next week, but these rains would help only a little. A longer-range 2-week forecast from the operational GFS model shows little or no rain for the region from late next week well into March. Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) projects that spring in Eastern China has an enhanced probability of being dry, with only a 20% - 25% chance that the region will see above average precipitation, and a 40% - 45% chance of below average precipitation. So the great drought will likely continue, and China's ability to feed itself may be greatly challenged this year.


Figure 1. A dried cornfield in a mountainous area of Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, Jan. 18, 2011. Image credit: Xinhua/Zhu Zheng.


Figure 2. Drought conditions in China's Shandong Province this February have reached the "Severe" category. Image credit: Beijing Climate Center.

Impact on global food supplies and food prices
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the drought in north China seems to be putting pressure on wheat prices, which have been rising rapidly in the past few months. This has helped push global food prices to their highest levels since the FAO Food Price Index was created in 1990 (Figure 3.) China is the world's largest producer of wheat, and if they are forced to import large amounts of food due to continued drought, it could severely impact world food prices. However, the FAO's regional representative for Asia and the Pacific said in an interview with Reuters last month that the situation is not as severe as in 2008, when global food riots erupted. "In general, the supply/demand situation of food grains has become very tight at the moment but enough stocks means there is no cause for alarm," Konuma said. "We still maintain sufficient stocks, which is about 25 percent of annual production. As long as there are sufficient stocks, that means the world has enough food still to feed the people." However, he said that if food stocks continued to decline over the next few years, there would be cause for concern.

The record food global food prices have been partially driven by two other huge weather disasters, the Russian summer heat wave and drought of 2010, and the Australian floods of December - January 2011. Both Russia and Australia are major exporters of grain. Russia issued a ban last summer on grain exports because of their drought, which slashed the wheat harvest by 40% and damaged soils to such an extent that 10% of Russian wheat fields could not be planted this year. The Russian heat wave of 2010 is now estimated by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters to be the deadliest in human history, with 55,736 deaths. The Australian floods caused at least $1.7 billion in agricultural damage, reducing their wheat crop significantly. Fortunately, bumper crops were harvested in non-flooded areas of Australia, and the winter crop harvest in country was up 19% over the previous year's crop, and was the biggest since 2003 - 2004. Australia has been struggling with severe drought in recent years that caused more agricultural damage than the floods did.


Figure 3. The global price of food between 1990 - January 2011, as measured by the U.N.'s FAO Food Price Index. The FAO Food Price Index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. It consists of the average of price indices for Cereals, Oils and Fats, Sugar, Dairy, and Meat, weighted by the average export shares of each group. Food prices between 2002 - 2004 are given a benchmark value of "100". Global food prices in January 2011 were the highest since the FAO Index was established in 1990. Image credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Drought outlook for Northern Hemisphere summer of 2011
The spike in global food prices this winter raises the concern that a severe drought in a major grain producing region in North America, Europe, or Asia this summer could severely impact grain supplies and food prices. Fortunately, with La Niña conditions over the Eastern Pacific weakening, and possibly abating by summer, the chances for such a drought are lower than they would have been if La Niña were to stay strong into the summer. The latest precipitation forecast from Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (Figure 4) shows few areas of drought concern for the coming Northern Hemisphere summer. However, our skill at predicting drought months in advance is limited. For example, IRI's February 2010 forecast of precipitation for the summer of 2010 did not highlight Russia as an area of possible concern for drought, and Russia ended up having one of its worst droughts in history. IRI did highlight the Amazon as a region likely to have below-average summer rains, though, and the Amazon ended up having a 100-year drought last summer.


Figure 4. Global precipitation forecast for June, July and August of 2011, made in February 2011. Only a few scattered regions of the globe are predicted to have above-average chances of drought (yellow colors.) These areas include the Northwest U.S., Southern Brazil, and Northwest China. Image credit: International Research Institute for Climate and Society

Commentary
The recent unrest in the Middle East, which has been attributed, in part, to high food prices, gives us a warning of the type of global unrest that might result in future years if the climate continues to warm as expected. A hotter climate means more severe droughts will occur. We can expect an increasing number of unprecedented heat waves and droughts like the 2010 Russian drought in coming decades. This will significantly increase the odds of a world food emergency far worse than the 2007 - 2008 global food crisis. When we also consider the world's expanding population and the possibility that peak oil will make fertilizers and agriculture much more expensive, we have the potential for a perfect storm of events aligning in the near future, with droughts made significantly worse by climate change contributing to events that will cause disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and war.

I will be doing another post on Thursday or Friday.

The New York Times' Andy Revkin in his Dot Earth Blog has a more in-depth look at the food and climate change issue that I recommend.

Jeff Masters

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The convertible is rather enjoyable...finally. And it is rather windy with lots of warm and moist heading up to meet that front.

Public Information Statement as of 4:44 PM CST on February 24, 2011

...Multiple record high temperatures set today...

Here is a summary of the record high temperatures set
today...Thursday February 24 2011.

New Orleans International Airport set a record high today of 83
degrees which broke the old record of 81 set in 1982.

Slidell Airport set a record high today of 81 degrees which broke
the old record of 74 set in 2000.

Baton Rouge Airport set a record high today of 83 degrees which
broke the old record of 82 in 1944.

McComb Airport set a record high today of 81 degrees which broke
the old record of 80 set in 1980.

New Orleans Lakefront Airport set a record high today of 84
degrees which broke the old record of 81 in 2001.

Pascagoula set a record high today of 77 degrees which broke the
old record of 73 in 2003.

Gulfport set a record high today of 75 degrees which broke the old
record of 70 in 2001.

As a reminder...the length of record is rather short at
Slidell...Pascagoula and at Gulfport.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
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Floodman I'm going for the day, out.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
Yer killin' me, Jerry....


;)


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Quoting Floodman:


And what was it they told you?


They waited in line to get gas for an hour or so
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
Quoting RitaEvac:
My parents told me about it Floodman


And what was it they told you?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:


Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
Nice looking temperature map, from -10s below zero to 90s

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
My parents told me about it Floodman
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
Quoting Floodman:


You're kinda young, aren't you?


Yea I wasnt around in the 70s
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
This just in:

Report clears U.S. scientists in "climategate"

An independent review of thousands of emails stolen from climate researchers has found that scientists at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration did not manipulate data or otherwise engage in wrongdoing.

The report, issued by the Inspector General of the Department of Commerce, is at least the fifth report by various bodies in the United States and the United Kingdom to clear researchers at the heart of the so-called "Climategate" incident that galvanized vocal skeptics of the science of global warming.

The Inspector General's report found that NOAA researchers did not manipulate data, as has been widely claimed by climate change skeptics. The researchers involved also properly adhered to the agency's data review policies, the report concluded.

Article...

Full OIG report (PDF)

(Of course, this won't matter a bit to those convinced by Glenn Beck or Anthony Watts that there was trickery and deception involved. To paraphrase an old saying, you can lead horses to water, but you can't make them drink it when they'd rather quench their thirst with "Fair and Balanced" Kool-Aid.)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13548
Oh, and three cheers for STS-133!!

Hip hip...

Hip hip...

Hip hip...

Hooray!

Six brave souls just strapped themselves to what is essentially a giant bomb and blasted themselves safely into space. Awesome.
Member Since: March 26, 2006 Posts: 44 Comments: 1520
Quoting atmoaggie:
Yep. Just like a union going on strike...they use what clout they have in the only way they can.


Yep...they can't very well sail a carrier group through the Panama Canal...LOL

Now, what sucks is that we all of us pay the price for politcizing oil...
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Now the interesting thing is that in the interest of keeping Iran down and throttling their economy it is in the best interest of middle eastern oil producers to keep the price under $90 or so a barrel, the break point Iran needs to continue financing their, umm, projects
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Quoting Floodman:
And I only dsay thatm RitaEvac, because you don't seem to remember the OAPEC oil embargo in 1973; they will shut down the flow if they feel the need to do it...what other clout do they have?
Yep. Just like a union going on strike...they use what clout they have in the only way they can.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
It would be relatively easy to figure out, but only if you had the right data. You need to have a dense network of seismographs in the area in order to pinpoint the exact location of the epicenter(s). Then you need detailed records from the companies doing the fracking so you know exactly where they fracked, and exactly how much fluid they pumped. Of course, you'd also need a detailed knowledge of the subsurface geology, including a knowledge of existing faults and some estimation of the extant pressures on those faults.

At this point, I could only speculate on the possible causes for the Arkansas earthquakes. But the main points I was trying to make are:

1) Fracking has been proven to cause groundwater contamination.

2) Fracking has been proven to cause at least small earthquakes.

3) Fracking itself is not inherently evil, but it is highly irresponsible to perform fracking without taking into account the possibility of groundwater contamination and/or induced seismicity.


Quoting EYEStoSEA:


It's make perfect sense....it seems to me that it would take very little effort to determine if the fracking is causing the Ark. tremors....a 4.1 is not that strong, but could fracking cause an even larger tremor ?
Member Since: March 26, 2006 Posts: 44 Comments: 1520
And I only say that, RitaEvac, because you don't seem to remember the OAPEC oil embargo in 1973; they will shut down the flow if they feel the need to do it...what other clout do they have?
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Quoting 7080734:
Let's stop arguing over the internet and talk about the weather.
Yes, let's

SPC storm reports, so far:


That is not, apparently, a true severe wind report. Seems that lightning struck a Butt.
...
...Road house in N-Central Tenn.

(What?)

The report:
HOUSE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING AROUND 430 AM. HOUSE LOCATED ON BUTT ROAD IN NORTH CENTRAL SUMNER CO. REPORTED BY EM MGR. (OHX)

(glad to see no injuries or fatalities on that, tho)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE LITTLE ROCK AR
354 PM CST THU FEB 24 2011

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN LITTLE ROCK HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
SOUTHWESTERN FAULKNER COUNTY IN CENTRAL ARKANSAS...
EAST CENTRAL PERRY COUNTY IN CENTRAL ARKANSAS...
WEST CENTRAL PULASKI COUNTY IN CENTRAL ARKANSAS...
NORTH CENTRAL SALINE COUNTY IN CENTRAL ARKANSAS...

* UNTIL 430 PM CST

* AT 352 PM CST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO. THIS SEVERE
STORM WAS LOCATED NEAR LAKE WINONA...OR 16 MILES SOUTH OF
PERRYVILLE. DOPPLER RADAR SHOWED THIS TORNADO MOVING EAST AT 65
MPH.

* LOCATIONS IN THE PATH OF THIS DANGEROUS STORM INCLUDE...
LAKE MAUMELLE... WILLIAMS JUNCTION... ROLAND...
PINNACLE MTN... MORGAN... MAYFLOWER...
MAUMELLE... MARCHE... LITTLE ITALY...
LAKE WINONA... CHENAL VALLEY... WYE MTN...
WYE... REFORM... PARON...
PALARM... NATURAL STEPS... WILFORD PEAK...

THIS INCLUDES INTERSTATE 40 BETWEEN MILE MARKERS 130 AND 149.

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Quoting RitaEvac:
Shows how stupid the Middle East Oil tycoons really are too, if it got that high, there wouldn't be food transport to get their own damn food to them.


You're kinda young, aren't you?
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Let's stop arguing over the internet and talk about the weather.
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Quoting hurricanejunky:


and you're a real model of civility with your derisive and condescending posts. Gimme a break Atmo...
Okay.
I rarely dip into the asinine. If I do, call me on it.

And I challenge you to find any post I've made calling either a poster or his/her comments derisive names (your doing so prompted this discussion, which I'm not part of according to Mr. JF of the WuPD). Good luck in your search.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Quoting atmoaggie:

Back to back, even. Hard to miss when it's this easy.


and you're a real model of civility with your derisive and condescending posts. Gimme a break Atmo...
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2899
Not looking so good in the Tennessee Valley right now.
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Shows how stupid the Middle East Oil tycoons really are too, if it got that high, there wouldn't be food transport to get their own damn food to them.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
lol, we'd be dead where we stand
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
WTF, FOX news quoting some expert about $200 barrel oil if Saudi Oil shuts down...
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
Quoting MrMixon:
Here's the quickest summary I can provide:

"Fracking" uses high pressure fluids to fracture rock. Seismic events like earthquakes are due to the release of subterranean pressures. Fracturing rock in the right place can make it easier for those pressures to be released.

It's sort of like how fracturing a bridge's concrete support structure could possibly cause the bridge to collapse.

Does that make sense?




It's make perfect sense....it seems to me that it would take very little effort to determine if the fracking is causing the Ark. tremors....a 4.1 is not that strong, but could fracking cause an even larger tremor ?
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
Note, fracking can also lead to what's called subsidence. In these cases, the fracturing of the deep rock causes the overlying rock to collapse under its own weight. This can lead to minor earthquakes in places that have absolutely no "natural" seismic activity (i.e. - you don't need to have faults nearby for subsidence-based seismicity).
Member Since: March 26, 2006 Posts: 44 Comments: 1520
Here's the quickest summary I can provide:

"Fracking" uses high pressure fluids to fracture rock. Seismic events like earthquakes are due to the release of subterranean pressures. Fracturing rock in the right place can make it easier for those pressures to be released.

It's sort of like how fracturing a bridge's concrete support structure could possibly cause the bridge to collapse.

Does that make sense?


Quoting EYEStoSEA:


Could you also summarize the relationship between fracking and seismic activity...thanks
Member Since: March 26, 2006 Posts: 44 Comments: 1520
2129 GMT (4:29 p.m. EST)
The Air Force-controlled Range is working the problem in hopes of getting the computer system back online for launch at 4:50 p.m. EST.

2127 GMT (4:27 p.m. EST)
The Eastern Range is "no go" at current time because of a problem with the central command computer.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13548
Quoting MrMixon:
And sorry for the long post. I've got two geology degrees and I'm a professional hydrologist, so I know a little sumthin' about fracking and groundwater contamination. I kept it as short as I could... :)

Here's the one sentence summary: though it won't do so in all cases, fracking has definitely been shown to contaminate groundwater when natural gas and groundwater occur in close proximity.


Could you also summarize the relationship between fracking and seismic activity...thanks
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
And sorry for the long post. I've got two geology degrees and I'm a professional hydrologist, so I know a little sumthin' about fracking and groundwater contamination. I kept it as short as I could... :)

Here's the one sentence summary: though it won't do so in all cases, fracking has definitely been shown to contaminate groundwater when natural gas and groundwater occur in close proximity.
Member Since: March 26, 2006 Posts: 44 Comments: 1520
Quoting JFLORIDA:
The good thing about being misused by the Denial trolls so much on my john tucker (sorry was logged in on my jflorida over here) is I feel free to say whatever I want - Atmo is notorious for jumping in a conservation from the far right completely uninformed. Thats his MO.
Quoting JFLORIDA:
639 - I totally blame the people here that allowed unreasonable conversation to flourish thus encouraging incivility.

From the complaints at the slightest discussion of climate issues to the blatantly ad hominem arguments allowed its been their fault from the beginning. Civility flows form reason in that the more structured, sourced and logical an argument becomes the less likely it can contain intentional incivility.

Back to back, even. Hard to miss when it's this easy.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
641. Your hands ain't exactly clean...especially when you use language like in 640.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.