The precision of satellite-based net irrigation quantification in the Indus and Ganges basins

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Even though irrigation is the largest direct anthropogenic interference in the natural terrestrial water cycle, limited knowledge of the amount of water applied for irrigation exists. Quantification of irrigation via evapotranspiration (ET) or soil moisture residuals between remote-sensing models and hydrological models, with the latter acting as baselines without the influence of irrigation, have successfully been applied in various regions. Here, we implement a novel ensemble methodology to estimate the precision of ET-based net irrigation quantification by combining different ET and precipitation products in the Indus and Ganges basins. A multi-model calibration of 15 models independently calibrated to simulate rainfed ET was conducted before the irrigation quantification. Based on the ensemble average, the 2003-2013 net irrigation amounts to 233 mm yr-1 (74 km3 yr-1) and 101 mm yr-1 (67 km3 yr-1) in the Indus and Ganges basins, respectively. Net irrigation in the Indus Basin is evenly split between dry and wet periods, whereas 70 % of net irrigation occurs during the dry period in the Ganges Basin. We found that, although annual ET from remote-sensing models varied by 91.5 mm yr-1, net irrigation precision was within 25 mm per season during the dry period for the entire study area, which emphasizes the robustness of the applied multi-model calibration approach. Net irrigation variance was found to decrease as ET uncertainty decreased, which is related to the climatic conditions, i.e., high uncertainty under arid conditions. A variance decomposition analysis showed that ET uncertainty accounted for 73 % of the overall net irrigation variance and that the influence of precipitation uncertainty was seasonally dependent, i.e., with an increase during the monsoon season. The results underline the robustness of the framework to support large-scale sustainable water resource management of irrigated land.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2463-2478
Number of pages16
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2023

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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