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Keith J. Harding and Peter K. Snyder

Abstract

The rapid expansion of irrigation in the Great Plains since World War II has resulted in significant water table declines, threatening the long-term sustainability of the Ogallala Aquifer. As discussed in Part I of this paper, the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) was modified to simulate the effects of irrigation at subgrid scales. Simulations of nine April–October periods (three drought, three normal, and three pluvial) over the Great Plains were completed to assess the full impact of irrigation on the water budget. Averaged over all simulated years, irrigation over the Great Plains contributes to May–September evapotranspiration increases of approximately 4% and precipitation increases of 1%, with localized increases of up to 20%. Results from these WRF simulations are used along with a backward trajectory analysis to identify where evapotranspiration from irrigated fields falls as precipitation (i.e., irrigation-induced precipitation) and how irrigation impacts precipitation recycling. On average, only 15.8% of evapotranspiration from irrigated fields falls as precipitation over the Great Plains, resulting in 5.11 mm of May–September irrigation-induced precipitation and contributing to 6.71 mm of recycled precipitation. Reductions in nonrecycled precipitation suggest that irrigation reduces precipitation of moisture advected into the region. The heaviest irrigation-induced precipitation is coincident with simulated and observed precipitation increases, suggesting that observed precipitation increases in north-central Nebraska are strongly related to evapotranspiration of irrigated water. Water losses due to evapotranspiration are much larger than irrigation-induced precipitation and recycled precipitation increases, confirming that irrigation results in net water loss over the Great Plains.

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Keith J. Harding and Peter K. Snyder

Abstract

Since World War II, the expansion of irrigation throughout the Great Plains has resulted in a significant decline in the water table of the Ogallala Aquifer, threatening its long-term sustainability. The addition of near-surface water for irrigation has previously been shown to impact the surface energy and water budgets by modifying the partitioning of latent and sensible heating. A strong increase in latent heating drives near-surface cooling and an increase in humidity, which has opposing impacts on convective precipitation. In this study, the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) was modified to simulate the effects of irrigation on precipitation. Using a satellite-derived fractional irrigation dataset, grid cells were divided into irrigated and nonirrigated segments and the near-surface soil layer within irrigated segments was held at saturation. Nine April–October periods (three drought, three normal, and three pluvial) were simulated over the Great Plains. Averaging over all simulations, May–September precipitation increased by 4.97 mm (0.91%), with localized increases of up to 20%. The largest precipitation increases occurred during pluvial years (6.14 mm; 0.98%) and the smallest increases occurred during drought years (2.85 mm; 0.63%). Precipitation increased by 7.86 mm (1.61%) over irrigated areas from the enhancement of elevated nocturnal convection. Significant precipitation increases occurred over irrigated areas during normal and pluvial years, with decreases during drought years. This suggests that a soil moisture threshold likely exists whereby irrigation suppresses convection over irrigated areas when soil moisture is extremely low and enhances convection when antecedent soil moisture is relatively high.

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