High temperatures that will occur in this century can severely impact coffee bean production, leading to coffee shortages.
Even short heatwaves and bursts of high temperatures can cause coffee plants to wilt. Wilting means no flowers, which means no fruit. No fruit means no beans, and no beans means no coffee.
Coffea arabica plants, which make up two thirds of coffee-producing plants, are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. When heat waves and higher temperatures become more frequent and more intense, coffee plants may struggle to produce fruit.
Current climate models predict that the 21st century will experience frequent and intense spikes in temperature. These temperatures might impact tropical regions more; the tropics, unfortunately, are where a lot of coffee plants grow.
“Tropical species are particularly vulnerable to heat stress because of the higher radiation load, the increase in heat wave intensity and frequency expected in the tropics, and the narrower distribution of temperatures typically experienced compared to extratropical species,” says Dr. Danielle Marias.
Dr. Marias and her colleagues studied how leaf age and the duration of heat waves affect the recovery of coffee plants from heat stress. The researchers subjected the plants to temperatures as high as 49°C for 45 or 90 minutes. According to climate predictions, living in temperatures of 49°C is a realistic possibility for coffee plants.
The study found that younger leaves found it more difficult to recover from heat stress than mature leaves. Leaves exposed to heat for 90 minutes also took longer to recover. What's chilling, however, is that none of the plants in the study managed to produce flowers or fruits. This may mean that even short bouts of heat stress can severely impact crops and lead to coffee shortages.
There are a lot of reasons that we should all make an effort to mitigate climate change and global warming. Arctic sea ice are melting, plant and animal species are dying out, weather patterns are changing. The problem, though, is that perhaps we don't really feel the effects of climate change on a more personal level.
If coffee shortages were on the horizon, though, perhaps the effects of climate change may hit closer to home. Climate change has done a lot of things, but it hasn't tried to part coffee lovers from their coffee just yet. Maybe we'll see what happens then.
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