Irrigation is an important adaptation strategy to improve crop resilience to global climate change. Irrigation plays an essential role in sustaining crop production in water-limited regions, as irrigation water not only benefits crops through fulfilling crops' water demand but also creates an evaporative cooling that mitigates crop heat stress. Here we use satellite remote sensing and maize yield data in the state of Nebraska, USA, combined with statistical models, to quantify the contribution of cooling and water supply to the yield benefits due to irrigation. Results show that irrigation leads to a considerable cooling on daytime land surface temperature (−1.63°C in July), an increase in enhanced vegetation index (+0.10 in July), and 81% higher maize yields compared to rainfed maize. These irrigation effects vary along the spatial and temporal gradients of precipitation and temperature, with a greater effect in dry and hot conditions, and decline toward wet and cool conditions. We find that 16% of irrigation yield increase is due to irrigation cooling, while the rest (84%) is due to water supply and other factors. The irrigation cooling effect is also observed on air temperature (−0.38 to −0.53°C) from paired flux sites in Nebraska. This study highlights the non-negligible contribution of irrigation cooling to the yield benefits of irrigation, and such an effect may become more important in the future with continued warming and more frequent droughts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3065-3078
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • LST
  • cooling
  • irrigation
  • maize yield
  • water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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