Will climate change increase irrigation requirements in agriculture of Central Europe? A simulation study for Northern Germany

Environ Sci Eur. 2014;26(1):18. doi: 10.1186/s12302-014-0018-1. Epub 2014 Jul 22.


Background: By example of a region in Northern Germany (County of Uelzen), this study investigates whether climate change is likely to require adaption of agricultural practices such as irrigation in Central Europe. Due to sandy soils with low water retention capacity and occasional insufficient rainfall, irrigation is a basic condition for agricultural production in the county of Uelzen. Thus, in the framework of the comprehensive research cluster Nachhaltiges Landmanagement im Norddeutschen Tiefland (NaLaMa-nT), we investigated whether irrigation might need to be adapted to changing climatic conditions. To this end, results from regionalised climate change modelling were coupled with soil- and crop-specific evapotranspiration models to calculate potential amounts of irrigation to prevent crop failures. Three different runs of the climate change scenario RCP 8.5 were used for the time period until 2070.

Results: The results show that the extent of probable necessary irrigation will likely increase in the future. For the scenario run with the highest temperature rise, the results suggest that the amount of ground water presently allowed to be extracted for irrigation might not be sufficient in the future to retain common agricultural pattern.

Conclusions: The investigation at hand exemplifies data requirements and methods to estimate irrigation needs under climate change conditions. Restriction of ground water withdrawal by German environmental regulation may require an adaptation of crop selection and alterations in agricultural practice also in regions with comparable conditions.

Keywords: European Water Framework Directive; Evapotranspiration; Soil moisture; Uelzen; Water and Substance Simulation Model; Water availability.