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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ADAPTING SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF A CHANGING CLIMATE

Location: Great Plains Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research Unit

Title: Climate change and observed climate trends in the Fort Cobb experimental watershed

Authors
item Garbrecht, Jurgen
item Zhang, Xunchang
item Steiner, Jean

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Quality
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 25, 2014
Publication Date: July 14, 2014
Citation: Garbrecht, J.D., Zhang, X.J., Steiner, J.L. 2014. Climate change and observed climate trends in the Fort Cobb experimental watershed. Journal of Environmental Quality. 43:1319-1327.

Interpretive Summary: Climate and weather are two of several factors that determine the agricultural production potential of a region, the delivery of goods and services from the land, and the sustainability of the natural resource base. In recent decades, recurring, persistent droughts in the Central and Southern Great Plains have been stressing the landscape, while at the same time demands on soil and water resources are increasing to meet the needs of a growing population. The distinct possibility that these recent droughts may be related to climate change and may persist introduces another challenge to long-term water and land resource management. Information on the nature of the recent droughts, as well as on climatic characteristics that may prevail a decade from now, will enable agricultural producers and natural resource managers in the region plan for adaptive and mitigating measures. Such measures would increase the resilience of the agricultural landscape to climate change and maintain the sustainability of the natural resource base under changed climatic conditions. Climate records of the Fort Cobb watershed region were analyzed to identify recent trends in precipitation and air temperature and to determine if these trends could be interpreted as a sign of global warming and climate change. The evidence contained in the historical precipitation record was insufficient to infer that a recent, 20-year declining precipitation trend was related to climate change, especially since long term computer simulated projections of precipitation did not show a sizable change due to climate change over the next 5-10 years. Agricultural producers and water resources managers in central Oklahoma will likely continue to see great year-to-year and multiyear precipitation variations evidenced in the historical record. On the other hand, the observed recent warming trend was believed to be related to climate change and was expected to persist for decades. This was consistent with computer simulated projections of increasing average air temperature through the end of the 21st century. As a result of this warming trend, the likelihood and severity of agricultural droughts will increase, and so will the scarcity of available water resources. Agriculture and urban centers will have little choice but to adapt to the anticipated new climatic conditions.

Technical Abstract: In recent decades, recurring, persistent droughts in the Central and Southern Great Plains have been stressing the landscape, while at the same time demands on soil and water resources are increasing to meet the needs of a growing population. The distinct possibility that these recent droughts may be related to climate change introduces another dimension and challenge to long-term water and land resource management. Climate records of the Fort Cobb watershed region were analyzed to identify recent trends in precipitation and air temperature and to determine if these could be interpreted as a sign of global warming and climate change. The evidence contained in the historical precipitation record was insufficient to infer that a recent, 20-year declining precipitation trend was a persistent feature related to climate change. Also, Global Circulation Model (GCM) simulated projections of average annual and seasonal precipitation did not show a sizable change in precipitation due to climate change to occur over the next 10 to 20 years. Agricultural producers and water resources managers in central Oklahoma will likely continue to see great year-to-year and multiyear precipitation variations evidenced in the historical record. On the other hand, the observed recent warming trend of 0.34 [oC/dc] that started about 1978 was believed to be related to climate change and was expected to persist for decades. This was consistent with GCM simulated projections of increasing average air temperature through the end of the 21st century. As a result of this warming trend, the likelihood and severity of agricultural droughts will increase, and so will the scarcity of available water resources. Agriculture and urban centers will have little choice but to adapt to the anticipated new climatic conditions.

Last Modified: 10/26/2014
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