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Title: IrrMapper: A Machine Learning Approach for High Resolution Mapping of Irrigated Agriculture Across the Western U.S.
High frequency and spatially explicit irrigated land maps are important for understanding the patterns and impacts of consumptive water use by agriculture. We built annual, 30 m resolution irrigation maps using Google Earth Engine for the years 1986–2018 for 11 western states within the conterminous U.S. Our map classifies lands into four classes: irrigated agriculture, dryland agriculture, uncultivated land, and wetlands. We built an extensive geospatial database of land cover from each class, including over 50,000 human-verified irrigated fields, 38,000 dryland fields, and over 500,000 km 2 of uncultivated lands. We used 60,000 point samples from 28 years to extract Landsat satellite imagery, as well as climate, meteorology, and terrain data to train a Random Forest classifier. Using a spatially independent validation dataset of 40,000 points, we found our classifier has an overall binary classification (irrigated vs. unirrigated) accuracy of 97.8%, and a four-class overall accuracy of 90.8%. We compared our results to Census of Agriculture irrigation estimates over the seven years of available data and found good overall agreement between the 2832 county-level estimates (r 2 = 0.90), and high agreement when estimates are aggregated to the state level (r 2 = 0.94). We analyzed trends over the 33-year study period, finding an increase of 15% (15,000 km 2 ) in irrigated area in our study region. We found notable decreases in irrigated area in developing urban areas and in the southern Central Valley of California and increases in the plains of eastern Colorado, the Columbia River Basin, the Snake River Plain, and northern California.  more » « less
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Remote Sensing
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

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    Significance Statement

    Irrigation grew profoundly in the United States over the twentieth century, increasing the resilience of American agriculture to drought. Yet observational records of agricultural drought, and its response to irrigation, are limited to the satellite era. Here, we show that a common measure of agricultural drought (the evaporative fraction, EF) can be estimated using widespread weather data, extending the agricultural drought record decades further back in time. We show that EF estimated using our approach is both sensitive and specific to the occurrence of irrigation, unlike an alternative derived from a reanalysis.

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