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Increased heat waves with loss of irrigation in the United States

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A potential decline in irrigation due to groundwater depletion or insufficient surface water would not only directly affect agriculture, but also could alter surface climate. In this study we investigated how loss of irrigation affects heat wave frequency, duration, and intensity across fifteen heat wave indices (HINs) using a regional climate model that incorporated dynamic crop growth. Averaged across all indices, loss of irrigation increased heat wave frequency, duration, and intensity. In the United States, irrigation effects on heat waves were statistically significant over irrigated cropland for the majority of HINs, but in non-irrigated regions, the effects were significant only for a few HINs. The heat index temperature metrics that include humidity were less sensitive to loss of irrigation due to the trade-off between increased temperature and decreased humidity. Using the same temperature metric but different temperature thresholds resulted in qualitatively similar effects on heat waves. Regions experiencing strong groundwater depletion, such as the southern high plains, may suffer more and longer heat waves with reduced irrigation.

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