Increased water scarcity due to changing climate, population growth, and economic development is a major threat to the sustainability of irrigated agriculture in the Western United States and other regions around the world. Management practices, such as controlled deficit irrigation, that seek to maximize the productivity of a limited water supply are critical. When using controlled deficit irrigation, remote sensing of crop canopy temperature is a useful tool for assessing crop water status and for more precise irrigation management. However, there is potential that nutrient deficiencies could compound the interpretation of water status from leaf temperature by altering leaf color and radiation balance. One objective of this thesis was to evaluate whether nitrogen fertility status of maize interacts with remotely sensed leaf temperature under full and limited irrigation. Another objective was to evaluate the effect of varying irrigation and nitrogen regimes on three water stress indices: Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI), Degrees Above Non-Stressed (DANS), and Degrees Above Canopy Threshold (DACT). Replicated studies were conducted using maize grown in both the glasshouse and the field. The glasshouse study consisted of combinations of well-watered and drought irrigation and sufficient and deficient nitrogen levels, while the field study consisted of combinations of well-watered, limited or controlled deficit, and drought irrigation and sufficient, sufficient delayed, and deficient nitrogen levels. In the glasshouse, leaf chlorophyll content was reduced moderately by limited irrigation and more so by N deficiency. For most observations in the glasshouse, the remotely sensed leaf temperatures were affected by irrigation, but not by N level. With drought irrigation, leaf temperature averaged 29.0° C, compared to 27.9 °C for the well-watered treatment. Similar results were observed in the field, illustrating the utility of canopy temperature in detecting water stress and that the measurement was not confounded by N status. It was also found that irrigation had a significant effect on all three water stress indices. For example, in the glasshouse, cumulative DANS was 32.2 for the drought treatment and 15.5 for the well-watered treatment. Similar results were found for other stress index measurements both in the glasshouse and the field. DANS underestimated stress on days when the reference crop was stressed and overestimated stress on low temperature days. DACT risks finding no stress when temperatures are below the canopy threshold temperature of 28.0 °C. Thus, CWSI is the most effective index, given that it takes humidity and air temperature into account. Indices were only weakly related to leaf area, biomass or grain yield, or crop water productivity. Linear regression of Nitrogen Sufficiency Index and its effect on crop growth found significant effects on biomass and grain yield, crop water productivity, and final leaf area. Thus, water stress indices are useful tools in evaluating crop water status, but consideration of other factors, such as nutrient status, must be taken for prediction of crop growth and yield.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





water stress, deficit irrigation, agriculture, nutrient management