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Earth Day 2024: Reflections on Climate Shifts Impacting Agriculture

Scott Patterson • April 17th, 2024.

Earth Day and Food

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd to promote good stewardship of the environment. When you think of the environment and ways to protect this vital resource, you might think of pollution from single use plastic, air and water quality, wildlife extinction, food waste, non-renewable fuels, and oil-free transportation. While all of these are worthy of their own story, this article is going to focus on changes in global food by way of agriculture, due to changes in the climate.

2024 So Far

From January to April, 2024 has lived up to expectations of more extreme weather events. Warmer air temperatures are leading to warmer ocean temperatures, which is fueling more extreme forms of global weather patterns. This is leading to one record-breaking event after another, resulting in property damage and loss of life.

Climate Event Impacts on Agriculture in 2024

These are just a few of the impacts we have seen so far in 2024 due to climate change influenced weather events.

MJO Supervillain and IOD

While the MJO can take some credit for the weather events that have already occurred in 2024, the MJO will be overshadowed this summer by the even lesser known, but equally threatening IOD. The IOD, or Indian Ocean Dipole, is simply the difference in water temperature in the Indian Ocean between Africa and Indonesia/Australia. Unlike the MJO, there are only three phases of the IOD, positive, neutral and negative. The positive phase leads to drought in many locations. The negative phase brings increased rainfall.

In 2023, between July and December, there was a strong +IOD and many places worldwide experienced extreme drought. This summer when the +IOD returns, it will be weaker than 2023. Unfortunately for the northern hemisphere, this will still mean a spike in hot temperatures in much of the US and Europe.

2024 Indian Dipole vs 2023 Indian Dipole

IOD index showing the expected values this year,
compared to 2023, which was stronger.

Positive and Negative Phases of the Indian Dipole IOD

The positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) showing ocean water
temperatures compared to normal in the Indian Ocean. The negative phase is the
opposite with cooler than normal near Africa and warmer near Indonesia.

The +IOD and the Northern Hemisphere Summer

The +IOD has many superpowers, but one is the ability to temporarily destroy the MJO. The MJO forms in the warm waters of the eastern Indian Ocean and over Indonesia. This same area runs cool and dry during +IOD. The MJO never has a chance to form.

Much like the MJO, the IOD can amplify the impacts of other global weather patterns. One such weather pattern is the NAO or North Atlantic Oscillation. The NAO is the difference in surface air pressure measured between Iceland and the Azore Islands in the eastern Atlantic off the coast of Portugal. When the pressure is lower in Iceland and higher in the Azores, then the NAO is said to be positive.

When the opposite is true, the NAO is negative. Negative NAO patterns can lead to super cold outbreaks in the winter for North America and Europe. This winter there was a +NAO pattern and it was most likely triggered at least partially by the positive IOD pattern. A +NAO causes rainy, warm winters in northwest Europe, like it did this year. It also causes warm northeastern US winters.

Effects of NAO on Pressure

Positive NAO showing difference in pressure in the Atlantic Ocean.
Lower pressure leads to rain and storms, while higher pressure
is clear skies, hot and dry.

What is different about IOD patterns in 2024 and how will this impact crops?

Most IOD patterns occur between July and December. This summer, the +IOD pattern will be a little different because it will start in June-July and be done by September. Once the IOD forms, there is not an immediate reaction. There is a delay, so the effects may not be felt in the US or Europe until July and August. Now remember in the winter, the +NAO leads to a wetter UK and mild temperatures. Well, in the summer months, the opposite happens in the UK. This means much lower than normal rainfall and above normal temperatures in the form of heat waves.

The other big change will happen on the Mediterranean coasts from Italy to Greece, where a cooler and wetter summer is more likely. While this may offer some relief to the struggling olive groves, it may have adverse effects on other crops like grapes that need the sunlight and warmer, drier conditions to produce the best yields.

IOD Impact on EU Summer 2024

Showing the positive IOD pattern and how it could impact
Europe this summer.

Similar to the UK, but on a much larger scale, much of the growing regions in the central US may experience intense heat waves and increased drought conditions this summer. Barley, wheat, and corn are the main staples grown in this region. While the IOD could lead to heat waves in the Pacific NW and bring drier conditions as well to the western US, one area that may see abnormally cool and wet conditions for the summer will be West Texas. One crop that may be affected most by this change will be cotton. While extreme heat and drought is bad, not enough sunlight, cool weather, and above normal rainfall can lead to increases in disease and also ruin the year’s harvest.

The MJO, La Niña, and the NH Winter or SH Summer

The IOD pattern will start to weaken in August and end by the start of October. As in past IOD events, the changes likely will ripple out and show up quickly in Australia and Indonesia. It may take until the start of November before the US and Europe notice significant changes. Once the IOD ends, the MJO will regain its power. A developing La Niña will increasingly have more influence on global weather patterns.

Australia, being closest to these changes, will see a drier than normal start to spring. It will become wetter by mid to late spring, which will benefit crops and livestock across the country, but especially in the eastern half. Similar transitions to wetter conditions will take place in South America and Africa.

For the northern hemisphere, the focus will be on the developing La Niña and the increase in tropical activity in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Atlantic will likely see a very active year of tropical storms and hurricanes. The MJO can create periods of more activity where multiple storms may be ongoing all at once and raise the risk for a landfalling hurricane. Wind damage could be a real concern for crops like sugarcane and citrus in Florida, and tropical-grown fruits across the Caribbean.


This year, however you choose to celebrate Earth Day, remember that the health of the world’s environment is directly tied to the choices made by people each day. The impact of what we add to the air, to the water, and to the soil can ultimately lead to changes in the climate. These changes can reduce the availability of grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, causing prices to rise to unaffordable levels for millions of vulnerable people or prevent some regions from being able to grow these crops at all. For more information on how the IOD, the MJO, the La Niña or any other type of weather pattern will affect your crops in 2024, reach out to ClimateAi.

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