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Meier, Jonas; Zabel, Florian; Mauser, Wolfram (2018): A global approach to estimate irrigated areas - a comparison between different data and statistics. In: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, Vol. 22, No. 2: pp. 1119-1133
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Agriculture is the largest global consumer of water. Irrigated areas constitute 40% of the total area used for agricultural production (FAO, 2014a) Information on their spatial distribution is highly relevant for regional water management and food security. Spatial information on irrigation is highly important for policy and decision makers, who are facing the transition towards more efficient sustainable agriculture. However, the mapping of irrigated areas still represents a challenge for land use classifications, and existing global data sets differ strongly in their results. The following study tests an existing irrigation map based on statistics and extends the irrigated area using ancillary data. The approach processes and analyzes multi-temporal normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) SPOT-VGT data and agricultural suitability data - both at a spatial resolution of 30 arcsec - incrementally in a multiple decision tree. It covers the period from 1999 to 2012. The results globally show a 18% larger irrigated area than existing approaches based on statistical data. The largest differences compared to the official national statistics are found in Asia and particularly in China and India. The additional areas are mainly identified within already known irrigated regions where irrigation is more dense than previously estimated. The validation with global and regional products shows the large divergence of existing data sets with respect to size and distribution of irrigated areas caused by spatial resolution, the considered time period and the input data and assumption made.