Comparative analysis of water budgets across the U.S. long-term agroecosystem research network

TitleComparative analysis of water budgets across the U.S. long-term agroecosystem research network
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsBaffaut C, Baker J.M, Biederman JA, Bosch DD, Brooks ES, Buda AR, Demariac EM, Elias EH, Flerchinger GN, Goodrich DC, Hamilton SK, Hardegree SP, R. Harmel D, Hoover DL, King K.W., Kleinman PJA
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Date Published05/04/2020
ARIS Log Number368902
Keywordsevapotranspiration, hydrologic characterization, irrigation, percolation, precipitaiton, soil water storage, subsurface outflows, surface outflows, water budget

Understanding the movement and storage of water within agricultural landscapes as functions of management and climate is essential for more efficient and sustainable water use. However, knowledge of water storage and fluxes on U.S. agricultural lands is largely incomplete. The Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network provides a unique and geographically diverse set of agricultural study sites in the United States. The objectives of this study were to: 1) characterize the hydrologic variability across the LTAR network; 2) identify data gaps in the water budgets across the LTAR network; and 3) identify opportunities to leverage the LTAR network to improve understanding of water budgets across agricultural landscapes. For each of the 18 LTAR sites, we developed water budgets on an average annual basis. Uncertainties for each component were based on the quantification method and the length of the data sets. Uncertainty propagation methods combined these uncertainties and the unquantified components to calculate an overall water budget uncertainty. Datasets length ranged from three to 50 years, depending on the component and the site. The network covers a range of precipitation from 240 to 1400 mm yr-1, evapotranspiration from 228 to 1080 mm yr-1, and surface runoff and subsurface flow from negligible to 1500 mm yr-1. However, uncertainties of where all the water is going remained high, in part because soil water storage and downward movement of water were often neglected or measured for very short periods, resulting in average water budget uncertainty of 25% of the water inputs. More accurate measurement of the major inputs and outputs, and direct measurement of water content and percolation are keys to understanding how agricultural lands affect terrestrial water budgets.