Jan 31, 2012
Insight: Siberian agriculture could benefit from climate change
Some nations, like Russia and northern parts of China, may actually benefit from climate change. We, a team of scientists from the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Aerospace in the US, have based our hypothesis on previous studies that showed that the Siberian taiga (or forest) would shift northwards by the end of this century. These analyses also suggest that at least half of central Siberia would be occupied by steppe and forest-steppe that may become suitable for agriculture as the climate warms. Thanks to deep and fertile soils in this region, such a future climate would then allow for farming.
From available data, we also found that crop yields increased from 1960 to 2010 in the south of Siberia. This crop increase may be associated with stable positive trends in both summer and winter temperatures that prolonged the growing season by up to one month for 50 years. Crop yields decreased only across regions where the climate became drier.
We also developed crop range and production models, and predict that traditional Siberian crops – grain, potato and maize for silage – may increase by twofold and could gradually shift northwards by about 50–70 km per decade as the climate warms. New crops – maize for grain, sunflower for seed, melons, gourds, fruits and berries – could be introduced in the far south depending on winter conditions, but these would require irrigation in the drier climate. However, thanks to the great Siberian rivers – the Ob, Yenisei and Lena – with their numerous tributaries, southern Siberia could be irrigated easily. Farming these new crops would be cheaper too since they would not need to be imported.
We believe that adapting to the potential negative, and positive, effects of climate warming would promote the stable development and well-being of southern Siberia. Our short-term goal is now to create software that can be applied to local agricultural regions to develop strategies for testing and introducing new crops in a warmer future.
About the author
Nadja Tchebakova has a PhD in forest ecology and is a senior scientist at the Sukachev Institute of Forests, Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Her scientific interests include modeling climate-change impacts on vegetation, biomes, tree species and diseases, biodiversity, agriculture and insect infestation.