Evidence of enhanced precipitation due to irrigation over the Great Plains of the United States

Anthony Deangelis, Francina Dominguez, Ying Fan, Alan Robock, M. Deniz Kustu, David Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations


At the end of World War II, there was a rapid increase in irrigation over the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains of the United States via groundwater withdrawal, and we hypothesize that this disruption of the local hydrological cycle has enhanced the regional precipitation. We examined station and gridded precipitation observations for the warm season months over and downwind of the Ogallala over the 20th century. Increases in precipitation of 15-30% were detected during July from the easternmost part of the aquifer to as far downwind as Indiana. The timing (1940s, July) and spatial pattern of the precipitation increase are consistent with the history of Ogallala irrigation and mechanisms by which increases in evapotranspiration can affect convection. Additionally, we conducted a vapor tracking analysis and found that evapotranspiration over the Ogallala Aquifer contributes to downwind precipitation and that the contribution is greater when the evapotranspiration is higher. This makes it hydrologically possible that the irrigation development was associated with the observed precipitation increases. Finally, there is no clear evidence that atmospheric circulation changes or modes of internal climate variability increased the July precipitation. Further analysis of the influence of Ogallala irrigation on precipitation will include the controlled analysis of climate model simulations that explicitly include irrigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD15115
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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