Climate change effects on winter chill for tree crops with chilling requirements on the Arabian Peninsula


Fruit production systems that rely on winter chill for breaking of dormancy might be vulnerable to climatic change. We investigated decreases in the number of winter chilling hours (0–7.2◦C) in four mountain oases of Oman, a marginal area for the production of fruit trees with chilling requirements. Winter chill was calculated from long-term hourly temperature records. These were generated based on the correlation of hourly temperature measurements in the oases with daylength and daily minimum and maximum temperatures recorded at a nearby weather station. Winter chill was estimated for historic temperature records between 1983 and 2008, as well as for three sets of synthetic 100-year weather records, generated to represent historic conditions, and climatic changes likely to occur within the next 30 years (temperatures elevated by 1◦C and 2◦C). Our analysis detected a decrease in the numbers of chilling hours in high-elevation oases by an average of 1.2–9.5 h/year between 1983 and 2008, a period during which, according to the scenario analysis, winter chill was sufficient for most important species in most years in the highest oasis. In the two climate change scenarios, pomegranates, the most important tree crop, received insufficient chilling in 13% and 75% of years, respectively. While production of most traditional fruit trees is marginal today, with trees barely fulfilling their chilling requirements, such production might become impossible in the near future. Similar developments are likely to affect other fruit production regions around the world.