Researchers have found that growing a particular perennial grass in the American Midwest could scale back warming by as much as 1°C in parts of the region.
“Growing perennial grasses on marginal land not only can reduce soil erosion, restore carbon stocks, and provide feedstocks for biofuels and bioproducts, but also can be an effective mitigation strategy to contain regional climate change, preventing the United States agricultural heartland from the warming-and-drying trend currently projected,” Dr. Xin-Zhong Liang, co-author of a University of Maryland study on the subject, told the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
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His team’s study found that Giant Miscanthus, a bamboo-like perennial grass that can grow up to 10 feet tall, is well-suited for land that is unused or extensively grazed to create a “a canopy that’s likely to lower regional summer temperatures while increasing humidity, rainfall, and overall crop productivity,” the UNDRR writes in a research brief.
Giant Miscanthus, officially Miscanthus x giganteus, is water-efficient, non-invasive, and requires minimal fertilizer—traits that pair well with marginal lands in the American Midwest.
These recent findings build on previous land use research by considering how a crop’s effect on local climate can influence its own yield and growth in a two-way interaction. Compared to an earlier study that did not consider this feedback when it projected a potential average 0.51°C cooling in the Midwest by planting biomass crops on both productive cropland and uncultivated marginal land, the new study estimates an average of 0.56°C cooling across the region that could approach 1°C in Illinois and Missouri.
Giant Miscanthus would not only lower regional temperatures but, through its climatic feedback loop, would also increase summer precipitation, according to the new study. The plant’s influence would also interact with atmospheric circulation to push precipitation effects hundreds of miles beyond the areas where it is grown.
The authors say their findings could have important implications for global climate mitigation.
“One of the goals established at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26) meeting was to secure global net-zero carbon dioxide emission by 2050 and keep the 1.5°C rise within reach,” the researchers write. “Our study shows that Miscanthus on marginal land can be one nature-based solution that the United States can scale up to contribute to global efforts of meeting the goal of net-zero emission.”