Propagation of biases in humidity in the estimation of global irrigation water
Abstract. Future projections on irrigation water under a changing climate are highly dependent on meteorological data derived from general circulation models (GCMs). Since climate projections include biases, bias correction is widely used to adjust meteorological elements, such as the atmospheric temperature and precipitation, but less attention has been paid to biases in humidity. Hence, in many cases, uncorrected humidity data have been directly used to analyze the impact of future climate change. In this study, we examined how the biases remaining in the humidity data of five GCMs propagate into the estimation of irrigation water demand and consumption from rivers using the global hydrological model (GHM) H08. First, to determine the effects of humidity bias across GCMs, we ran H08 with GCM-based meteorological forcing data sets distributed by the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP). A state-of-the-art bias correction method was applied to the data sets without correcting biases in humidity. Differences in the monthly relative humidity amounted to 11.7 to 20.4 % RH (percentage relative humidity) across the GCMs and propagated into differences in the estimated irrigation water demand, resulting in a range between 1152.6 and 1435.5 km3 yr−1 for 1971–2000. Differences in humidity also propagated into future projections. Second, sensitivity analysis with hypothetical humidity biases of ±5 % RH added homogeneously worldwide revealed the large negative sensitivity of irrigation water abstraction in India and East China, which are heavily irrigated. Third, we performed another set of simulations with bias-corrected humidity data to examine whether bias correction of the humidity can reduce uncertainties in irrigation water across the GCMs. The results showed that bias correction, even with a primitive methodology that only adjusts the monthly climatological relative humidity, helped reduce uncertainties across the GCMs: by using bias-corrected humidity data, the uncertainty ranges of irrigation water demand across the five GCMs were successfully reduced from 282.9 to 167.0 km3 yr−1 for the present period, and from 381.1 to 214.8 km3 yr−1 for the future period (RCP8.5, 2070–2099). Although different GHMs have different sensitivities to atmospheric humidity because different types of potential evapotranspiration formulae are implemented in them, bias correction of the humidity should be applied to forcing data, particularly for the evaluation of evapotranspiration and irrigation water.