Impacts of irrigation on 20th century temperature in the northern Great Plains

Rezaul Mahmood, Stuart A. Foster, Travis Keeling, Kenneth G. Hubbard, Christy Carlson, Ronnie Leeper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Land use change can modify root zone moisture distribution, energy partitioning and subsequently, near surface energy balance. Various modeling studies provided evidence of these changes. For example, land use change from natural grass land to irrigated land use would significantly increase and decrease latent and sensible energy flux, respectively. This type of long-term modification of energy balance would in turn change near surface temperatures. The Great Plains of North America experienced significant overturning of land from natural grass land to irrigated land use during the 20th century. This study provides assessment on the changes in the historical near surface temperature records in Nebraska, USA. Long-term mean monthly maximum, minimum, and monthly mean air temperature data from 5 irrigated and 5 non-irrigated sites were analyzed. Length and homogeneity of time series and stability of stations were primary determinants in selection of these stations. The time series include Cooperative Weather Observation Network (COOP) and Historical Climate Network (HCN) data sets. Pairwise comparisons of temperatures between irrigated and non-irrigated locations for pre- and post-1945, -1950, and -1955 periods were completed for both data sets. These breakdowns of time series helped to identify periods of widespread land use change. Results show notably cooler temperatures over irrigated areas. For example, mean maximum growing season temperature at irrigated Alliance was 0.64 °C and 1.65 °C cooler compared to non-irrigated Halsey during pre- and post-1945 period, respectively. Hence, there was a 1.01 °C cooling during post-1945 years. Moreover, there has been a greater cooling during the second half of 20th century. The bootstrap re-sampling method was applied and trend analyses were completed for further verification of results. These assessments largely show a decreasing trend in mean maximum growing season temperatures over irrigated areas. To further verify the results and to determine the impacts of extreme values (including extremely cool temperatures), the 20% trimmed mean approach was applied. The impacts of extreme values have been minimal and based on the results obtained we conclude that land use change in the northern Great Plains has modified near surface temperature records.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • land use change
  • temperature change
  • the Great Plains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


Dive into the research topics of 'Impacts of irrigation on 20th century temperature in the northern Great Plains'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this