Parched Earth: Climate Change, Groundwater Depletion and the Future of Food Production in North America

A warmer world will have severe consequences for global agriculture, slowing yield-growth even as populations increase at alarming rates. Indeed drought and extreme heat have taken a toll on the sector recently. Warming, management changes, and adaptation pressures are expected to increase demand for irrigation even as freshwater resources become increasingly threatened. Effects of increased atmospheric [CO2] further complicate the picture. Meanwhile, groundwater in the USaccounting for 60% of irrigation and 40% of drinking wateris on the decline. Depleting aquifers and increased competition from other sectors may significantly constrain irrigation.

We combine crop, climate, and hydrological models with diverse historical data to evaluate existing models and synthesize new models and data products. The proposed research necessitates a multi-disciplinary and technically intensive approach that is poorly funded by traditional sources. Limited data exists on groundwater and crucial processes such as aquifer recharge are difficult to model. The project will provide proof-of-principle for a broader agenda of deep data-model integration and synthesis, combing available data with best-of-class models and high-performance computing to improve decision-making around climate, food-security, water, infrastructure, health, and environment. If successful, it will produce results of immediate use to research and stakeholder communities.


In addition to RDCEP, support for the Parched Earth project is generously provided by the 1896 pilot project.


Joshua Elliott | Ian Foster | Tess RussoAlison Brizius | Chetan Deva | James Chryssanthacopoulos | Eric Potash