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August 9, 2013

Wine and Global Warming

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If you enjoy a glass of quality wine, climatologists studying the impact of global warming on vineyards have some bad news for you. They report warming may mean up to an 81 percent drop in this country's ability to produce premium wine, and turn some of the cooler spots on the planet into the next century's best wine producers. As this ScienCentral News video explains, scientists studying climate change say that while an increase in average temperatures is a major concern, changes in extreme weather are an even bigger problem.

Wine Country on the Move

"Wine Country" locales are places where frost is rare, temperatures are moderate, and there's just the right amount of rain and humidity. In wine country the best grapes are babied in this nearly perfect weather, and picked at just the right moment to make premium wines. But, even in such an idyllic-sounding setting, grape growing is a risky business. A few days of really hot weather can make a good grape great, but a few more really hot days can make a great grape go bad.

Now, grape growers must consider another factor: global warming. Southern Oregon University climatologist Greg Jones forecasts changes for growers in already warm places: "If you're in a region that's going to warm beyond your ability to produce the same wine style, then you need to think about how you're going to adapt."

Jones and his team used computer climate models to determine on a yearly basis, good growing years from bad. They modeled local temperature changes over grape growing regions nationwide and projected it out to the year 2100 to examine the impact of global warming. The results show that America's best wine growing regions face both an overall warming and an increase in the number of extremely hot days. Both changes would impact grapes and result in an up to 81 percent decline in premium wine production area in the U.S.

Over the past 50 years, Jones says global warming has actually been, "beneficial to grape growing regions throughout the world," increasing temperatures an average of two degrees Fahrenheit. He added, "We found that as the growing season climates got warmer so did the vintage quality (improve)."

But, he says computer models now show that the next hundred years will warm things up too much. He says production would shift to the northwest and northeast to places already growing wine grapes in a cooler environment. He says, "Typically what we found though is that the places that would be more beneficial are those that are considered to be cool climate growing regions today." This would include places like Long Island and the Puget Sound. Additionally, he expects premium wine growing to shift to higher climates and toward the coasts. However, he notes that many of these areas are too humid and get too much rain to produce the right climate for premium wines.

Jones says this shift in wine growing locations away from the equators and toward the poles and higher elevations will happen worldwide. He says, "We've seen southern England, for example, which hasn't produced wonderful wine maybe since before the little ice age, producing wine now that is of reasonable quality. And, so in the future do we look at southern England as being the new wine growing region of the world?"

Jones' study takes advantage of new, more sophisticated, and detailed computer models. Those models turn our knowledge of how the world works into a complex mathematical equation that can project how the climate might behave. Such calculations are usually made only by using the world's most powerful supercomputers. Climatologists test those computer models against past events, a process called "hindcasting." If the models can accurately "predict" past events, it's considered useful for future forecasts, as well. Until recently, those models could only offer general projections over large regions, but improvements have allowed climatologists to "zoom in" to areas as small as 15 square miles.

Jones' study was published in the Online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for July 13, 2006, and was funded by NASA's New Investigator Program, Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, NSF, UCAR/NCAR.

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