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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Aggregation of soil and climate input data can underestimate simulated biomass loss and nitrate leaching under climate change

Villa, A.; Eckersten, H.; Gaiser, T.; Ahrends, H. E.; Lewan, E.


Predicting areas of severe biomass loss and increased N leaching risk under climate change is critical for applying appropriate adaptation measures to support more sustainable agricultural systems. The frequency of annual severe biomass loss for winter wheat and its coincidence with an increase in N leaching in a temperate region in Germany was estimated including the error from using soil and climate input data at coarser spatial scales, using the soil-crop model CoupModel. We ran the model for a reference period (1980-2010) and used climate data predicted by four climate model(s) for the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 2.6, 4.5 and 8.5. The annual median biomass estimations showed that for the period 2070-2100, under the RCP8.5 scenario, the entire region would suffer from severe biomass loss almost every year. Annual incidence of severe biomass loss and increased N leaching was predicted to increase from RCP4.5 to the 8.5 scenario. During 2070-2100 for RCP8.5, in more than half of the years an area of 95% of the region was projected to suffer from both severe biomass loss and increased N leaching. The SPEI3 predicted a range of 32 (P3 RCP4.5) to 55% (P3 RCP8.5) of the severe biomass loss episodes simulated in the climate change scenarios. The simulations predicted more severe biomass losses than by the SPEI index which indicates that soil water deficits are important in determining crop losses in future climate scenarios. There was a risk of overestimating the area where "no severe biomass loss + increased N leaching" occurred when using coarser aggregated input data. In contrast, underestimation of situations where "severe biomass loss + increased N leaching" occurred when using coarser aggregated input data. Larger annual differences in biomass estimations compared to the finest resolution of input data occurred when aggregating climate input data rather than soil data. The differences were even larger when aggregating both soil and climate input data. In half of the region, biomass could be erroneously estimated in a single year by more than 40% if using soil and climate coarser input data. The results suggest that a higher spatial resolution of especially climate input data would be needed to predict reliably annual estimates of severe biomass loss and N leaching under climate change scenarios.


Winter wheat; Soil -crop model; Environmental impact; Severe biomass loss; Spatial aggregation effects; N -leaching

Published in

European Journal of Agronomy
2022, Volume: 141, article number: 126630
Publisher: ELSEVIER