Global observed and modelled impacts of irrigation on surface temperature

Liang Chen, Paul A. Dirmeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural irrigation has significant potential for altering local climate by reducing soil albedo, increasing evapotranspiration, and enabling greater leaf area. Numerous studies using regional or global climate models have demonstrated the cooling effects of irrigation on mean and extreme temperature, especially over regions where irrigation is extensive. However, these model-based results have not been well validated due to the limitations of observational data sets. In this study, multiple satellite-based products, including the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) data sets, are used to isolate and quantify the local impacts of irrigation on surface climate over irrigated regions, which are derived from the Global Map of Irrigation Areas (GMIA). The relationships among soil moisture, albedo, evapotranspiration, and surface temperature are explored. Strong evaporative cooling by irrigation lowers daytime surface temperature over arid and semi-arid regions, such as California's Central Valley, the Great Plains, central Asia, and northwestern India. However, the cooling effects are less evident in areas of eastern China and the Lower Mississippi River Basin despite extensive irrigation over these regions. Results are also compared with irrigation experiments using the Community Earth System Model (CESM) to assess the model's ability to represent land–atmosphere interactions in regards to irrigation. CESM greatly underestimates the surface temperature response to irrigation. The comparison between the offline and coupled simulations suggests that the irrigation-induced cooling can be regulated by the interactions between land surface and atmosphere, and amplified signals are found over the “hot spot” regions. Meanwhile, model resolution can also influence the magnitude of the local cooling by irrigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2587-2600
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • CESM
  • evaporative cooling
  • irrigation
  • land surface temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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