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Direct human influence of irrigation on atmospheric water vapour and climate


Human activity increases the atmospheric water vapour content in an indirect way through climate feedbacks. We conclude here that human activity also has a direct influence on the water vapour concentration through irrigation. In idealised simulations we estimate a global mean radiative forcing in the range of 0.03 to +0.1 Wm–2 due to the increase in water vapour from irrigation. However, because the water cycle is embodied in the climate system, irrigation has a more complex influence on climate. We also simulate a change in the temperature vertical profile and a large surface cooling of up to 0.8 K over irrigated land areas. This is of opposite sign than expected from the radiative forcing alone, and this questions the applicability of the radiative forcing concept for such a climatic perturbation. Further, this study shows stronger links than previously recognised between climate change and freshwater scarcity which are environmental issues of paramount importance for the twenty first century.

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We thank P. Döll for providing the data of irrigated areas and the LMD for supporting the LMDZT model. Computing time was provided by the “Institut du Développement et des Ressources en Informatique Scientifique” of the CNRS under project 021167. The Laboratoire d’Optique Atmosphérique is an institute of the “Fédération de Recherche” FR1818 of the CNRS. Dr. Chris Milly and an anonymous reviewer are acknowledged for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to O. Boucher.

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Boucher, O., Myhre, G. & Myhre, A. Direct human influence of irrigation on atmospheric water vapour and climate. Climate Dynamics 22, 597–603 (2004).

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  • Water Vapour
  • Land Surface Temperature
  • Radiative Force
  • Precipitable Water
  • Evaporative Cool