Tumamoc Researcher Seeks Ways to Adapt Agriculture to Climate Change

June 7, 2024
A field of crops with desert mountains in the distance.

What if you could take foods grown in the Sonoran Desert and plant them around the world, addressing future food insecurity worsened by a warming planet? 

That’s the goal of a University of Arizona researcher who is trying to envision what the dishes of the future will look like with ingredients grown today in one climate that could grow well someplace else in 50 years.

Tasting Tomorrow began in a part of the country where changes in the climate could one day change the way food is grown. From the dry heat of summer days to cool winter evenings, Tucson’s desert climate is a sanctuary for residents and plants that dislike cold, wet weather. 

"Traditional cuisine is premised on what has grown well in the past in the place where that cuisine originates," said Jonathon Keats, a research associate at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. "Climate change alters the conditions agriculturally of what will grow in the future."

The arid conditions of the Sonoran Desert, paired with monsoon rains, shape both the land and its people. Desert plants thrive in this environment, from cactuses and shrubs to native food crops like prickly pear, tepary beans and agave. 

But as climate patterns shift on a warming planet, Tucson’s weather could transform in the coming decades, affecting not only residents' lifestyles but the availability of the foods they eat. 

Scientists use climate analog mapping, a technique that identifies and compares locations with similar climate conditions, both in the present and under future climate scenarios, to predict climate change. 

Under this model, Tucson’s climate could be similar to desert cities in the Middle East. Tucson — like many other cities in the world — will likely have a hotter and drier future, making it difficult to grow traditional and native food crops. 

Read more in the Arizona Republic >>