It is well established that crop production is inherently vulnerable to variations in the weather and climate. More recently the influence of vegetation on the state of the atmosphere has been recognized. The seasonal growth of crops can influence the atmosphere and have local impacts on the weather, which in turn affects the rate of seasonal crop growth and development. Considering the coupled nature of the crop–climate system, and the fact that a significant proportion of land is devoted to the cultivation of crops, important interactions may be missed when studying crops and the climate system in isolation, particularly in the context of land use and climate change.
To represent the two-way interactions between seasonal crop growth and atmospheric variability, we integrate a crop model developed specifically to operate at large spatial scales (General Large Area Model for annual crops) into the land surface component of a global climate model (GCM; HadAM3). In the new coupled crop–climate model, the simulated environment (atmosphere and soil states) influences growth and development of the crop, while simultaneously the temporal variations in crop leaf area and height across its growing season alter the characteristics of the land surface that are important determinants of surface fluxes of heat and moisture, as well as other aspects of the land-surface hydrological cycle. The coupled model realistically simulates the seasonal growth of a summer annual crop in response to the GCM's simulated weather and climate. The model also reproduces the observed relationship between seasonal rainfall and crop yield. The integration of a large-scale single crop model into a GCM, as described here, represents a first step towards the development of fully coupled crop and climate models. Future development priorities and challenges related to coupling crop and climate models are discussed.
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