That adds up to a sizeable impact on carbon uptake from the atmosphere. It also means that water shortages - already forecasted to be a big problem as the world warms - could contribute to yet more warming through a positive feedback loop.
The new research quantified irrigation's contribution to global agricultural productivity for the years 1998-2002, estimating the amount of carbon uptake enabled by relieving water stress on croplands. The results published August 25 in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles (which can be found at http://www.agu.org/journals/gb/gb1103/2009GB003720/), a publication of the American Geophysical Union.
"If you add up all the annual productivity that comes solely due to irrigation, it adds up to about 0.4 petagrams of carbon, nearly equivalent to the total agricultural productivity of the United States," says study author Mutlu Ozdogan, a UW-Madison professor of forest and wildlife ecology and member of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
The study also shows quantitatively that irrigation increases productivity in a nonlinear fashion - in other words, adding even a small amount of water to a dry area can have a bigger impact than a larger amount of water in a wetter region. "More irrigation doesn't necessarily mean more productivity," Ozdogan says. "There are diminishing returns."
This was already known on the field scale, he says, but is true globally as well. Interestingly, he found that, on average, worldwide irrigation is currently conducted close to the optimal level that maximizes gains. While this may be good news for current farmers, it implies limited potential for irrigation to boost future productivity even as food demands increase.
The study takes an important step toward quantifying how management decisions can impact global carbon balance and assessing the economic worth of water and carbon in irrigated landscapes.
"Now that we have spatially-explicit maps of how much irrigation is increasing carbon accumulation, we have good information about the value of the water going into those areas. We might be able to come up with a value of carbon in those areas as well," he says. "Of course the flip side of this is that, in many places around the world, if we keep irrigating we are either going to run out of water or degrade soils because of salinity issues."
The current study does not factor in any impacts in areas from which irrigation water is drawn. However, Ozdogan says, a better understanding of the links between irrigation, productivity, and carbon will help researchers look at downstream effects of factors that influence each of those elements - for example, how water shortages in agricultural regions may affect regional carbon cycles and climate.
The study continues a history of work from the UW-Madison's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment that includes the development of several freely available climate and ecosystem models, maps, and datasets (available at http://www.sage.wisc.edu/mapsdatamodels.html). This research was partially supported by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Applied Sciences Program grant.
Jill Sakai | Newswise Science News
Alkaline soil, sensible sensor
03.08.2017 | American Society of Agronomy
New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences