by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- New ideas are abundant at the ongoing American Association for the Advancement of Science annual show as scientists from the globe are calling for adaption in a fast-changing world by presenting their findings to the public.
Improvements in food security, climate change and bioenergy needs are just a few of the many interesting, and often alarming, findings presented at the event by scientists from some 60 nations and territories at the Vancouver Convention Center.
David Battisti, a University of Washington professor in atmospheric sciences, warns in terms of regional and global food security, the news is not good.
With climate warming from greenhouse gases, summer temperatures around the world are likely to increase by the end of this century and result in serious consequences in grain-growing regions, he said.
The volatility would be most pronounced in North and South America and Europe, he noted, saying that the effect has already hit Indonesian rice yields, as the country regularly imports rice to stabilize prices.
"If there's greater variability, the odds the temperature being so high that you can't grow a crop are greater," Battisti said.
With loss of production and higher average temperatures plus higher fertilizer costs and other market pressure, "food insecurity is likely to (be) higher than it has been for some time."
At a panel on "community modeling", the discussion centered on how researchers can pool data and ideas in a collaborative process to create solutions to resource problems around the globe.
Dr. Claudio Stockle, an expert in cropping systems modeling at the University of Washington, said natural resources and agriculture concerns are increasingly interconnected in North America's Pacific Northwest with climate change, increasing population and markets of emerging economies.
"We need to understand how the region will fare under projected future scenarios," Stockle said, stressing the need to "adapt or mitigate potential consequences".
Using models to tackle such issues "is almost unavoidable", he added.
In her latest research of food security, Jennifer Dunne of Santa Fe Institute examined the feeding habits of ancient human hunter-gatherers in relation to other species so as to provide new ways to understand human roles and impacts within complex ecosystems.
In examining data of the Aleut people of Sanak Island, Alaska, she found the reason why there is no species extinct though the Aleut people have lived on the remote island for thousands of years.
As "super-generalist" predators, the "highly omnivorous" Aleut eat everything from "kelp to sea otters", Dunne said, pointing out this is not a bad thing because it doesn't destabilize the whole food web.
"A super-generalist can co-exist with other species if it focuses on just a few of its possible prey at a time and switches prey regularly," she said, adding "It's stabilizing the system because it allows populations to recover."
In modern economic systems, generalists tend to focus on preferred foods until it gets difficult to find, Dunne said, taking the victim of blue-fin tuna as an example.
As the sushi favorite gets scarcer, the price goes up, which leads to more fishing and greater pressure on the tuna population and ultimately drives the species towards extinction and destabilizes the food web.
Bruce Dale, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University, has been researching the realities of using biomass to produce alternative fuels.
He said the drawback is logistics in getting the raw materials from the farms to the large-scale refineries, noting that currently there are only five in the United States that are either under construction or near completion.
He has suggested a new model using strategically-located "biomass processing depots" to process the biofuel feedstock before it goes to a refinery.
The depots "would process 100 to 200 tons of feedstock per day", he said. "Once processed, we could ship it much longer distances to the large-scale refineries."
Dale said that the plan calls for farmers to get a piece of the action, as they "could own part of the depot and share in some of the income from it".
The five-day show, attended by more than 8,000 people, has a history of 164 years.