Observations of increased cloud cover over irrigated agriculture in an arid environment

Luis Garcia-Carreras, John H. Marsham, Dominick V. Spracklen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Irrigated agriculture accounts for 20% of global cropland area and may alter climate locally and globally, but feedbacks on clouds and rainfall remain highly uncertain, particularly in arid regions. Nonrenewable groundwater in arid regions accounts for 20% of global irrigation water demand, and quantifying these feedbacks is crucial for the prediction of long-term water use in a changing climate. Here, satellite data are used to show how irrigated crops in an arid environment alter land surface properties, cloud cover, and rainfall patterns. Land surface temperatures (LSTs) over the cropland are 5-7 K lower than their surroundings, despite a lower albedo, suggesting that Bowen ratio is strongly reduced (and latent heat fluxes increased) over the irrigated cropland. Daytime cloud cover is increased by up to 15% points (a relative increase of 60%), with increased cloud development in the morning and a greater afternoon peak in cloud. Cloud cover is significantly correlated with interannual variations in vegetation and LST. Afternoon rainfall also appears to be enhanced around the irrigation. The cloud feedback is the opposite of what has been previously observed in tropical and semiarid regions, suggesting different processes drive land-atmosphere feedbacks in very dry environments. Increased cloud and rainfall, and associated increases in diffuse radiation and reductions in temperature, are likely to benefit vegetation growth. Predictions of changes in crop productivity due to climate change and the impacts of global land-use change on climate and the use of water resources would therefore benefit from including these effects.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2161-2172
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
    Issue number8
    Early online date20 Jul 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


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