Spatial modeling of contemporary crop yields in China under sustainable and unsustainable water use scenarios


Irrigated agriculture is an important part of China’s population and economic growth. Currently, water needed to irrigate crops can be drawn from surface runoff, streams, reservoirs, renewable groundwater, or fossil groundwater. Fossil groundwater is not sustainable over long time periods, and therefore regions that rely on this source for irrigation water could face water shortages in the future, and may already be experiencing water stress today. This study uses two models, one to calculate water balance and the other to simulate crop yields, to address the question: how much unsustainable water is currently used for irrigation in China, and by how much would the use of only sustainable water reduce crop yields? The amount of sustainable water available for irrigation is determined using the WBMplus model. This model uses precipitation and temperature drivers, along with gridded data of soils, cropping, and irrigation, to simulate soil moisture, potential evapotranspiration, surface runoff, stream flow, and reservoir storage, in 30 min grid cells. The model also computes demand for irrigation water, and the capacity of various sources to supply that demand in each grid cell. The DNDC model, which has been evaluated against crop yield in a number of studies in China, is used to predict crop yield for ~50 crop types involved in ~100 cropping systems across China, under zero and full irrigation for each grid cell. Yields using only the sustainable irrigation water capacity will be calculated by weighing the zero and full irrigation yields based on the water availability results of WBMplus for each grid cell. With this methodology, we estimate how national-scale food production would be changed by limiting agricultural water use.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type

Conference Proceeding