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Title: Decadal variability modulates trends in concurrent heat and drought over global croplands

Extreme heat and drought often reduce the yields of important food crops around the world, putting stress on regional and global food security. The probability of concurrently hot and dry conditions, which can have compounding impacts on crops, has already increased in many regions of the globe. The evolution of these trends in coming decades could have important impacts on global food security. However, regional variation and the influence of natural climate variability on these trends remains an important gap in understanding future climate risk to crops. In this study, we examine trends in concurrent hot-and-dry extremes over global maize and wheat croplands since 1950. We find that the mean extent of cropland in a joint hot-and-dry extreme increased by ∼2% over 1950–2009, and this trend has accelerated substantially since the mid-2000s, notably in the tropics. While joint hot-and-dry seasons affected at most 1%–2% of global cropland per year during the mid-20th century, they regularly exceeded this extent after about 1980, affecting up to 5% of global crop area. These results suggest that the global climate is transitioning from one in which concurrent heat and drought occur rarely to one in which they occur over an important fraction of more » croplands every year. While these long-term global trends are primarily attributable to anthropogenic climate change, we find they have been suppressed by decadal climate variability in some regions, especially ones with chronic food insecurity. Potential reversals in these tendencies of decadal variability would accelerate exposure of croplands to concurrent heat and drought in coming decades. We conclude by highlighting the need for research and adaptive interventions around multivariate hazards to global crops across timescales.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Environmental Research Letters
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Article No. 055024
IOP Publishing
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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