New Study Finds Pollution from North America Harming Crops in Europe

by on March 7th, 2015
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A new study by a group of British researchers has found that Europe has lost some of its ability to grow large amounts of crops due to pollution crossing the Atlantic and diminishing the size of harvests. The team, made up of a group of scientists from the University of Leeds, in the UK, have published the results of their study in the journal Biogeosciences.

The problem, the team reports, is the amount of ozone that makes its way from North America, across the Atlantic, into the skies of Europe where it falls when it rains. The ozone in the soil then causes plants to have difficulty absorbing nutrients, thereby reducing the amount of produce that ripens. One example they say is 1.2 additional million tons of wheat that would have been produced in all of Europe last year, had not the ozone problem depleted the plant’s ability to produce to its fullest extent.

According to the paper, ozone is released when fossil fuels such as gasoline and coal are burned, the two major pollutants on the North American continent. The ozone, being lighter than air, is carried aloft and remains in the air until rains bring it down.

The team found that pollutants from North America are not the only ones affecting crop losses, they found for example that pollution from Asia as a whole is likely responsible for wheat loses equal to those that are actually produced, or in other words, were it not for pollutants being spread around, the world would be able to produce twice as much wheat as is grown now without having to till any more land. Worse, they found that rice production would be some ninety times what it is today were it not for various pollutants causing less to be produced.

Sadly, they also found that North American pollution accounts for shortfalls of corn by 60% and soybeans by 75%.

At the same time, the team found that the impact from pollutants emanating from Europe are minor in comparison due to geographical boundaries separating those pollutants from farming communities. In other words, rain in the mountains of Eastern Europe washes out the ozone before it can reach the farming fields of Russia and Asia.

The authors conclude their paper by suggesting that increased pollutants from both North America and especially Asia are likely to cause even lower yields in the future unless a worldwide initiative is undertaken to remove particulates from the air before they move over farmlands.


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