Teak trees offer clues to drought history

A group of scientists are developing more accurate drought and harvest forecasts for Indonesia using tree rings, historic rice production figures and sea surface temperature data, the Reuters news agency reports.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most populous nations and a major producer of rice, cocoa, coffee and tobacco.

But the country is regularly at risk of drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which causes the eastern Pacific ocean to heat up, resulting inĀ  wet weather moving toward the east and leaving drier weather in west around South-East Asia and Australia.

US scientist Rosanne D’Arrigo and colleague Robert Wilson are working on simplified statistical models that can predict drought ahead of the main September-December rice planting season, and how severe the drought might be.

The models focus on Java, one of the world’s most densely populated islands with 120 million people.

“We’re trying to develop simple, predictive model of drought and crop productivity on Java,” said Dr D’Arrigo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“There are complex models out there but you need to have a local type of analysis and something simple for local people to use .”

She was speaking to Reuters from Dalat, southern Vietnam, where she was presenting her team’s work at a climate change conference this week.

A key part of the model is using sea surface temperature data from the tropical Pacific and from the Indian Ocean.

A separate phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole can also cause drought in Australia and affect rainfall in Indonesia.

Other data, such as sea-level pressure and wind indexes, are also used.

The data are examined several months before the usual onset of the monsoon to try to accurately predict likely rainfall patterns over Indonesia.

Dr D’Arrigo said she also found good agreement between the sea surface temperature model, a local drought index in Java and government data on crop productivity.

This suggested “we could estimate not only the coming drought condition but also the kind of crop season you would expect to have,” she said, adding she was also looking at a predictive model for the onset of the monsoon.

Her team also looked at tree rings from old teak trees in Java and Sulawesi island to build up a chronology of past droughts and found a very strong correlation with El Nino.

“Indonesia is kind of unique in the sense that it’s probably the area where you have the greatest ‘ground-zero’ climate signal related to El Nino,” she explained.

The oldest teak tree ring records came from the 16th Century, she said, but added it had been hard work finding the remaining centuries-old teak trees.

“It takes fair a bit of research. You have to do a bit of detective work to find the few remaining last stands that haven’t been cut for furniture.”

Source: Reuters

Date: 18/02/2009


Shade trees can protect coffee crops from climate extremes

Farming techniques that use shade trees may improve crops’ resistance to temperature and rainfall extremes that climate change is expected to trigger, says a study in BioScience magazine.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, US, focused on coffee production, although they added that their conclusions could be applied to other cash crops, including cocoa and tea, which also were traditionally grown under shade trees.

The scientists gathered evidence that showed that the intensification of coffee production in recent decades had made the crop, and the millions of people whose livelihood depends on it, more vulnerable to higher temperatures and changes in rainfall.

In an effort to boost production, the US researchers added, growers had increased their use of pesticides and relied less on shade trees.

Their findings suggested that these developments made the coffee plants more susceptible to extreme weather events.

The team added that the benefits of shade trees appeared to be greater in marginal growing areas.

They called for more research in to whether a return to more traditional agroforestry techniques were likely to protect the livelihoods of farmers threatened by climate change.

Below is the paper’s abstract:

An inevitable consequence of global climate change is that altered patterns of temperature and precipitation threaten agriculture in many tropical regions, requiring strategies of human adaptation.

Moreover, the process of management intensification in agriculture has increased and may exacerbate vulnerability to climate extremes.

Although many solutions have been presented, the role of simple agroecological and agroforestry management has been largely ignored.

Some recent literature has shown how sustainable management may improve agroecological resistance to extreme climate events.

We comment specifically on a prevalent formof agriculture throughout Latin America, the coffee agroforestry system.

Results from the coffee literature have shown that shade management in coffee systems may mitigate the effects of extreme temperature and precipitation, thereby reducing the ecological and economic vulnerability of many rural farmers.

We conclude that more traditional forms of agriculture can offer greater potential for adapting to changing conditions than do current intensive systems.

Source: American Institute of Biological Sciences

Date: 1/10/2008

%d bloggers like this: