Divergent Regional Climate Consequences of Maintaining Current Irrigation Rates in the 21st Century

Cook, Benjamin I.; McDermid, Sonali; Puma, Michael; Williams, A. Park; Seager, Richard; Kelley, Maxwell; Nazarenko, Larissa S.; Aleinov, Igor D.

There is strong evidence that the expansion and intensification of irrigation over the twentieth century has affected climate in many regions. However, it remains uncertain if these irrigation effects, including buffered warming trends, will weaken or persist under future climate change conditions. Using a 20-member climate model ensemble simulation, we demonstrate that irrigation will continue to attenuate greenhouse gas-forced warming and soil moisture drying in many regions over the 21st century, including Mexico, the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia, and China. Notably, this occurs without any further expansion or intensification of irrigation beyond current levels, even while greenhouse gas forcing steadily increases. However, the magnitude and significance of these moderating irrigation effects vary across regions and are highly sensitive to the background climate state and the degree to which evapotranspiration is supply (moisture) versus demand (energy) limited. Further, limitations on water and land availability may restrict our ability to maintain modern irrigation rates into the future. Nevertheless, it is likely that irrigation, alongside other components of intensive land management, will continue to strongly modulate regional climate impacts in the future. Irrigation should therefore be considered in conjunction with other key regional anthropogenic forcings (e.g., land cover change and aerosols) when investigating the local manifestation of global climate drivers (e.g., greenhouse gases) in model projections.


Also Published In

JGR Atmospheres

More About This Work