Variability in the Environmental Factors Driving Evapotranspiration from a Grazed Rangeland during Severe Drought Conditions

Joseph G. Alfieri Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

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Peter D. Blanken Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

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David N. Yates Research Applications Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Konrad Steffen Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

Nearly one-half of the earth’s terrestrial surface is susceptible to drought, which can have significant social, economic, and environmental impacts. Therefore, it is important to develop better descriptions and models of the processes linking the land surface and atmosphere during drought. Using data collected during the International H2O Project, the study presented here investigates the effects of variations in the environmental factors driving the latent heat flux (λE) during drought conditions at a rangeland site located in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Specifically, this study focuses on the relationships of λE with vapor pressure deficit, wind speed, net radiation, soil moisture content, and greenness fraction. While each of these environmental factors has an influence, soil moisture content is the key control on λE. The role of soil moisture in regulating λE is explained in terms of the surface resistance to water vapor transfer. The results show that λE transitioned between being water or energy limited during the course of the drought. The implications of this on the ability to understand and model drought conditions and transitions into or out of droughts are discussed.

* Current affiliation: Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Corresponding author address: Joseph G. Alfieri, Department of Agronomy, Lilly Hall of Life Sciences, 915 West State Street, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054. Email: Email: jalfieri@purdue.edu

Abstract

Nearly one-half of the earth’s terrestrial surface is susceptible to drought, which can have significant social, economic, and environmental impacts. Therefore, it is important to develop better descriptions and models of the processes linking the land surface and atmosphere during drought. Using data collected during the International H2O Project, the study presented here investigates the effects of variations in the environmental factors driving the latent heat flux (λE) during drought conditions at a rangeland site located in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Specifically, this study focuses on the relationships of λE with vapor pressure deficit, wind speed, net radiation, soil moisture content, and greenness fraction. While each of these environmental factors has an influence, soil moisture content is the key control on λE. The role of soil moisture in regulating λE is explained in terms of the surface resistance to water vapor transfer. The results show that λE transitioned between being water or energy limited during the course of the drought. The implications of this on the ability to understand and model drought conditions and transitions into or out of droughts are discussed.

* Current affiliation: Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Corresponding author address: Joseph G. Alfieri, Department of Agronomy, Lilly Hall of Life Sciences, 915 West State Street, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054. Email: Email: jalfieri@purdue.edu

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