Could altering soils and crops reduce heat wave intensity?

December 1, 2016

Dr Jatin KalaA Murdoch University researcher will be investigating how altering land management practices to change the properties of soils and crops will help to reduce the intensity of heat waves.

Dr Jatin Kala from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences has won a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) worth more than $300,000 to fund the three year study.

His previous research has shown that land surface can amplify the intensity of heat waves, but there have only been a few studies, mostly focused in Europe, which investigate the potential of bioengineering the land surface to help with heat waves.

The findings will provide urgently needed information for agriculture on adaptation to the increasing intensity of heat waves in Australia, which will be applicable globally.

“Heat waves have very high social, environmental and economic impacts and their intensity is currently increasing, and projected to increase into the future for Australia,” said Dr Kala.

“For example, the heat wave conditions during the summer of 2008-09 leading to the Black Saturday bush fires resulted in 173 deaths and damage to infrastructure estimated at more than $4 billion.

“It is imperative that we demonstrate how different strategies to manage our soils and crops can help reduce the risks associated with heat waves.”

Dr Kala will apply state-of-the-art climate models to the agricultural regions of the south-west and south-east Australia to simulate the impact of factors like irrigation and no-till farming practices (where the disturbance to soils is minimised) on temperature extremes and heat waves.

The simulations will also illustrate the influence of differing crops releasing differing levels of moisture into the atmosphere, and how soil and crop colour and moisture levels can affect heat wave intensity.

“For example, genetic engineering offers the possibility to breed wheat varieties that are more tolerant to drought, minimising the loss of moisture into the atmosphere during photosynthesis,” said Dr Kala.

“However, the effect of increased water-efficiency is a reduction in water being released into the atmosphere, which could lead to a warming effect. It is critical to test the effect of such strategies on heat waves.”

Among the models Dr Kala will be using is CABLE, the Community Atmosphere-Biosphere-Land Exchange model. This can be used to estimate carbon, water and energy exchanges over set periods and the amount of vegetation growth and mortality, both above and below the ground.

He will also be utilising NASA’s Land Information System and the Weather Research and Forecasting regional atmospheric model for the study, and processing up to 20 terabytes of information via the PAWSEY supercomputer in Perth.

The simulations will focus on 10 years, between 1981 and the present day, and will include a selection of strong El Nino (wet) years and La Nina (dry) years in order to capture climate variability.

Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!