Articles | Volume 18, issue 8
Research article
27 Apr 2018
Research article |  | 27 Apr 2018

Particulate matter air pollution may offset ozone damage to global crop production

Luke D. Schiferl and Colette L. Heald

Abstract. Ensuring global food security requires a comprehensive understanding of environmental pressures on food production, including the impacts of air quality. Surface ozone damages plants and decreases crop production; this effect has been extensively studied. In contrast, the presence of particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere can be beneficial to crops given that enhanced light scattering leads to a more even and efficient distribution of photons which can outweigh total incoming radiation loss. This study quantifies the impacts of ozone and PM on the global production of maize, rice, and wheat in 2010 and 2050. We show that accounting for the growing season of these crops is an important factor in determining their air pollution exposure. We find that the effect of PM can offset much, if not all, of the reduction in yield associated with ozone damage. Assuming maximum sensitivity to PM, the current (2010) global net impact of air quality on crop production varies by crop (+5.6, −3.7, and +4.5 % for maize, wheat, and rice, respectively). Future emissions scenarios indicate that attempts to improve air quality can result in a net negative effect on crop production in areas dominated by the PM effect. However, we caution that the uncertainty in this assessment is large, due to the uncertainty associated with crop response to changes in diffuse radiation; this highlights that a more detailed physiological study of this response for common cultivars is crucial.

Short summary
Global population growth and industrialization have contributed to poor air quality worldwide, and increasing population will put pressure on global food production. We therefore assess how air pollution may impact crop growth. Ozone has previously been shown to damage crops. We demonstrate that the impact of particles associated with enhanced light scattering promotes growth, offsetting much, if not all, ozone damage. This has implications for air quality management and global food security.
Final-revised paper