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Spatial Irrigation Management Using Remote Sensing Water Balance Modeling and Soil Water Content Monitoring

J. Burdette Barker, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Spatially informed irrigation management may improve the optimal use of water resources. Sub-field scale water balance modeling and measurement were studied in the context of irrigation management. A spatial remote-sensing-based evapotranspiration and soil water balance model was modified and validated for use in real-time irrigation management. The modeled ET compared well with eddy covariance data from eastern Nebraska. Placement and quantity of sub-field scale soil water content measurement locations was also studied. Variance reduction factor and temporal stability were used to analyze soil water content data from an eastern Nebraska field. No consistent predictor of soil water temporal stability patterns was identified. At least three monitoring locations were needed per irrigation management zone to adequately quantify the mean soil water content. The remote-sensing-based water balance model was used to manage irrigation in a field experiment. The research included an eastern Nebraska field in 2015 and 2016 and a western Nebraska field in 2016 for a total of 210 plot-years. The response of maize and soybean to irrigation using variations of the model were compared with responses from treatments using soil water content measurement and a rainfed treatment. The remote-sensing-based treatment prescribed more irrigation than the other treatments in all cases. Excessive modeled soil evaporation and insufficient drainage times were suspected causes of the model drift. Modifying evaporation and drainage reduced modeled soil water depletion error. None of the included response variables were significantly different between treatments in western Nebraska. In eastern Nebraska, treatment differences for maize and soybean included evapotranspiration and a combined variable including evapotranspiration and deep percolation. Both variables were greatest for the remote-sensing model when differences were found to be statistically significant. Differences in maize yield in 2015 were attributed to random error. Soybean yield was lowest for the remote-sensing-based treatment and greatest for rainfed, possibly because of overwatering and lodging. The model performed well considering that it did not include soil water content measurements during the season. Future work should improve the soil evaporation and drainage formulations, because of excessive precipitation and include aerial remote sensing imagery and soil water content measurement as model inputs.

Subject Area

Agricultural engineering|Remote sensing

Recommended Citation

Barker, J. Burdette, "Spatial Irrigation Management Using Remote Sensing Water Balance Modeling and Soil Water Content Monitoring" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10271830.