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USU discs put world’s water in clear focus

SHARE USU discs put world’s water in clear focus

Greater crop yields, more detailed weather forecasting and perfectly located dams may all spring from a high-tech product developed at Utah State University.

All three involve water, the subject of The World Water and Climate Atlas for Agriculture, which is a CD-ROM database series that provides global temperature and precipitation information. The first CD-ROM, a monthly database on Asia, was announced Sunday by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.Eventually, a team led by Donald J. Jensen, a Utah State professor and director of the Utah Climate Center, plans to produce five other regional monthly discs and 17 discs that segment data in 10-day intervals. The discs will aid farmers, agronomists, engineers, conservationists, meteorologists, researchers and government policymakers who need access to high-quality climatological information. The discs are free.

"All of this data is converted into maps that clearly delineate climatic conditions, no matter how remote an area of land may be, in a user-friendly computer program that agronomists can use to assist even the poorest farmers," said Ismail Serageldin, chairman of the consultative group on In-ter-na-tional Agricultural Research and vice president for Environmentally Sustainable Development of the World Bank.

The Consultative Group oversees 16 research centers, including the International Irrigation Management Institute, based in Sri Lanka, which worked on the Atlas project. The group, in turn, is sponsored by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations' development and environment programs.

The Japanese government provided a $250,000 grant for the Atlas project, hence the decision to release a CD-ROM for Asia first.

Each disc pulls together information from several climatological databases and provides quality-controlled weather data that can be used to pinpoint areas as small as one square mile, temperature projections to within 1 degree Celsius and precipitation to within 10 percent for most locations.Jensen and Andy Keller, a scientist with the International Irrigation Management Institute, culled data from 56,000 weather stations around the world for the period stretching from 1961 to 1990. The data was "cleaned" to account for fluctuations caused by, for example, temperature increases due to large expanses of concrete near airfields.

These three decades represent a "normal period" of climatological conditions, forming a useful benchmark for interpreting the global warming phenomenon, Jensen said.

"We expect scientists to find many other important applications for the Atlas that we haven't even dreamed about ourselves," Jensen said.

The atlas includes 10-day, monthly and annual summaries of average, maximum and minimum temperatures, precipitation and precipitation probabilities, water evaporation, a moisture availability index and a net evapotranspiration index that charts the difference between evapotranspiration and precipitation.

"The atlas can help researchers find links in climatic data," Jensen said.

The atlas also will be "valuable because it has time data. You can look through a growing season and see when an area needs irrigation or has enough rain to sustain crops."

It is common internationally for weather stations to be as far as 300 miles apart, with a lot of agricultural land between them, Jensen said. The atlas will help farmers and others project climatological data for such lands.

Managing increasingly scarce water resources and determining which crops are best suited for arable land will likely be top applications of the data provided by the CD-ROMs.

"The Atlas will show, for instance, where rice or potatoes, or any crop, could be grown where they are not now being grown," said David Seckler, director general for the International Irrigation Management Institute. "It will also show what more valuable or more nutritious food crops farmers might grow on their land."

That sort of information yield is critical since 70 percent of all water used annually is devoted to irrigation to produce up to 40 percent of world food crops on just 17 percent of the globe's arable land.

Jensen began working on a similar project covering Utah and the western United States five years ago; he broadened the scope of the work to the rest of the world 14 months ago.

Data used in the atlas project are also available at (http://www.atlas.usu.edu) and (http://www.climate.usu.edu)