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Top Story

New study provides 18-year water use record

Irrigation for agriculture is the largest use of fresh water around the globe, but precise records and maps of when and where water is applied by farmers are difficult to locate. Now, a team of researchers has discovered how to track water used in agriculture. In a recent paper, researchers detail their use of satellite images to produce annual maps of irrigation. The researchers used Google Earth Engine, a cloud-computing platform that makes large-scale satellite and environmental data analyses available to the public, to quantify changes in irrigation from year to year--an important finding for farmers, crop consultants and policymakers working to improve the efficiency of irrigation. The project focuses on an economically important agricultural region of the central U.S.--the Republican River Basin--that overlies portions of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, and provides surface water and groundwater to the High Plains Aquifer. The team found that irrigation in this area roughly doubled between 2002 and 2016. The findings, the scientists said, will help farmers, water resource managers and others understand agricultural irrigation choices and make better water management decisions.

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