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Scientists study connection between Great Plains precipitation and agricultural irrigation

Can crop irrigation affect the clouds that form high above farm fields? Indeed it can, say atmospheric scientists. Agricultural irrigation to meet a growing demand for food is adding significant amounts of water to the land surface and altering regional land use and land cover. These changes affect lower atmosphere circulation, potentially influencing cloud development and precipitation. To further understand how irrigation may be affecting precipitation, scientists from several institutions have teamed up for a National Science Foundation-funded project known as the Great Plains Irrigation Experiment, or GRAINEX. Scientists from six partner institutions -- the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Western Kentucky University, University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of Colorado at Boulder, National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Center for Severe Weather Research -- began collecting data in late May across a 3,600-square-mile area in southeastern Nebraska. The data collection will continue through the end of July. The results of the study will eventually help agricultural planning and weather forecasting in the United States and other parts of the world, the researchers said.

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