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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
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Research article 10 Aug 2018

Research article | 10 Aug 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Estimating irrigation water use over the contiguous United States by combining satellite and reanalysis soil moisture data

Felix Zaussinger1, Wouter Dorigo1, Alexander Gruber1,2, Angelica Tarpanelli3, Paolo Filippucci3, and Luca Brocca3 Felix Zaussinger et al.
  • 1CLIMERS – Research Group Climate and Environmental Remote Sensing, Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, TU Wien, Vienna, Austria
  • 2Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, Heverlee, Belgium
  • 3Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection, National Research Council, Perugia, Italy

Abstract. Effective agricultural water management requires accurate and timely information on the availability and use of irrigation water. However, most existing information on irrigation water use (IWU) lacks the objectivity and spatio-temporal representativeness needed for operational water management and meaningful characterisation of land-climate interactions. Although optical remote sensing has been used to map the area affected by irrigation, it does not physically allow for the estimation of the actual amount of irrigation water applied. On the other hand, microwave observations of the moisture content in the top soil layer are directly influenced by agricultural irrigation practices, and thus potentially allow for the quantitative estimation of IWU. In this study, we combine surface soil moisture retrievals from the spaceborne SMAP, AMSR2, and ASCAT microwave sensors with modelled soil moisture from MERRA-2 reanalysis to derive monthly IWU dynamics over the contiguous United States (CONUS) for the period 2013–2016. The methodology is driven by the assumption that the hydrology formulation of the MERRA-2 model does not account for irrigation, while the remotely sensed soil moisture retrievals do contain an irrigation signal. For many CONUS irrigation hot spots, the estimated spatial irrigation patterns show good agreement with a reference data set on irrigated areas. Moreover, in intensively irrigated areas, the temporal dynamics of observed IWU is meaningful with respect to ancillary data on local irrigation practices. State-aggregated mean IWU volumes derived from the combination of SMAP and MERRA-2 soil moisture show a good correlation with statistically reported state-level irrigation water withdrawals but systematically underestimate them. We argue that this discrepancy can be mainly attributed to the coarse spatial resolution of the employed satellite soil moisture retrievals, which fails to resolve local irrigation practices. Consequently, higher resolution soil moisture data are needed to further enhance the accuracy of IWU mapping.

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Felix Zaussinger et al.
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