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Research Reveals Air Pollution Costs US Estimated $1B a Year in Perennial Crop Yield

Yang Zhang, Professor and Distinguished Fellow at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, co-authored a paper titled “Impacts of ozone and climate change on yields of perennial crops in California,” recently published in Nature Food. The research reveals extensive impact on a critical portion of US crops, and highlights potential savings gained from reduced air pollution. Such impact is based on changes in climate and ambient ozone level in 2050 under climate scenarios projected by Professor Zhang’s group with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation Earth System Modeling Program.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture, was a collaborative effort between researchers from U.C., Irvine, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, U.C. San Diego, Northeastern University, U.C. Davis, and Ohio State University in Columbus.

Prior investigations of the impact of air pollution and temperature change on agricultural productivity have been primarily centered around staple food crops such as wheat and rice. The research team decided to perform a thorough analysis of the effect of climate change and ozone on perennial crops– plants such as fruits and nuts that can be harvested multiple times and have a life span of more than two to three years. They represent about 38% of the state of California’s total agricultural output.

Historical data between the years 1980 and 2015 was studied to determine the extensive influence of ozone levels on perennial crops and predict potential yield fluctuations in the future. It was found that ozone can reduce yields to various degrees depending on the crop, ranging from losses of 2% for strawberries to 22% for table grapes.  Researchers estimated economic losses from ozone pollution at $1 Billion per year. The study concluded that air quality regulation to reduce pollution and ozone damage would create agricultural benefits and notably increase perennial crop yields.

For more information, please see the press release by the University of California at this link.

Related Faculty: Yang Zhang

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering