AsianScientist (Jan. 18, 2022) – While the atmosphere’s ozone layer protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, high ozone levels across the planet’s surface pose a threat to food security. In East Asia, the rising ozone pollution has led to the reduced yield of major staple crops and annual agricultural losses worth over US$60 billion, reported a study in Nature Food.
Staple crops are crucial for Asia’s food security and economy. From 2014 to 2018, the region produced about 90 percent of the world’s rice, 32 percent of maize and 44 percent of wheat. As industrial development has steadily intensified across Asia, the region has become a hotspot for the surface ozone pollution.
As a greenhouse gas, chronic ozone concentrations contribute to global warming and hinder crop growth. However, previous studies didn’t give precise Asia-wide assessment because they used characteristics that are not specific to Asian crop genetics and environmental conditions. The studies also relied on models of surface ozone levels instead of direct measurements.
To paint a more accurate picture of the impacts of ozone exposure on Asia’s crop production, an international team led by Dr. Feng Zhaozhong from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology examined experimental data on ozone exposure vis-à-vis yields of wheat, maize and rice from key agricultural sites across the region.
The researchers recorded surface ozone levels from more than 3,000 monitoring sites in China, Japan and South Korea across 12 hours every day for six months. Then they calculated whether ozone concentrations at these sites exceeded 40 parts per billion–a threshold value defined by the European Union to measure air quality and protect vegetation.
China suffered the highest crop loss at 33 percent for wheat, 23 percent for rice and 9 percent for maize. Moreover, East Asia’s total annual economic losses due to ozone pollution were pegged at US$63 billion. Over US$30 billion of that were attributed to just the reduced rice production.
Given these striking findings, the researchers highlighted the need to quantify crop losses and evaluate possible benefits of reducing air pollution in other sites across South and Southeast Asia. Region-wide monitoring networks for surface ozone alongside strict policies on emissions could help mitigate the looming threat of ozone exposure and food shortage.
“Pollution control would bring about considerable benefits from enhanced crop production and improved grain quality,” the authors concluded.
The article can be found at: Feng et al. (2022) Ozone pollution responsible for US$63 billion in crop losses in East Asia.
Source: Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology; Photo: Ivan Bandura/Unsplash.
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