FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS, U.S. — More than half of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face severe and prolonged droughts by the end of the century unless steps are taken to mitigate climate change, according to a recently published study.

The chance of widespread drought in wheat production areas is four times the level scientists see today, said Song Feng, University of Arkansas professor of geosciences and the second author of the study, which was published in the journal Science Advances.

Song Feng, University of Arkansas professor of geosciences. Photo courtesy of University of Arkansas

“If only one country or region sees a drought there is less impact,” Feng said. “But if multiple regions are affected simultaneously, it can affect global production and food prices, and lead to food insecurity.”

For the study, Feng and colleagues analyzed 27 climate models, each of which had three different scenarios.

“It was terabytes of information, and it took a couple months and multiple computers to run,” he said.

Feng and Miroslav Trnka, a professor at the Global Change Research Institute in the Czech Republic and first author of the study, came up with the idea for the study over pizza at a conference in Nebraska. They sketched out the initial ideas for the study on the back of a napkin.

The study found that historically, the total area affected by severe drought worldwide and food prices are closely related. More widespread drought has meant higher food prices in the past.

Severe drought could affect up to 15% of current wheat-growing areas, given present-day weather patterns, the study said.

If global warming is held to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, up to 30% of global wheat product areas could see simultaneous drought.

“This clearly suggests that that global warming will affect food production,” Feng said.