Surface flux equilibrium estimates of evapotranspiration at large spatial scales

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge MA; and State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering, Department of Hydraulic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing
  • 2 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge MA; and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge MA
  • 3 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge MA
  • 4 State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering, Department of Hydraulic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing; and State Key Laboratory of Plateau Ecology and Agriculture, Qinghai University, Xining, Qinghai, China
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Abstract

A recent theory proposes that inland continental regions are in a state of ‘surface flux equilibrium’ (SFE), in which tight coupling between the land and atmosphere allow estimation of the Bowen ratio at daily to monthly time scales solely from atmospheric measurements, without calibration, even when the land surface strongly constrains the surface energy budget. However, since the theory has only been evaluated at quasi-point spatial scales using eddy covariance measurements with limited global coverage, it is unclear if it is applicable to the larger spatial scales relevant to studies of global climate. In this study, SFE estimates of the Bowen ratio are combined with satellite observations of surface net radiation to obtain large-scale estimates of latent heat flux (λE). When evaluated against multiyear mean annual λE obtained from catchment water balance estimates from 221 catchments across the United States, the resulting error statistics are comparable to those in the catchment water balance estimates themselves. The theory is then used to diagnostically estimate λE using historical simulations from 26 CMIP6 models. The resulting SFE estimates are typically at least as accurate as the CMIP6 model’s simulated λE, when compared with catchment water balance estimates. Globally, there is broad spatial and temporal agreement between CMIP6 model SFE estimates and the CMIP6 model’s simulated λE, although SFE likely overestimates λE in some arid regions. We conclude that SFE applies reasonably at large spatial scales relevant to climate studies, and is broadly reproduced in climate models.

Corresponding author address: Kaighin A. McColl, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail: kmccoll@seas.harvard.edu

Abstract

A recent theory proposes that inland continental regions are in a state of ‘surface flux equilibrium’ (SFE), in which tight coupling between the land and atmosphere allow estimation of the Bowen ratio at daily to monthly time scales solely from atmospheric measurements, without calibration, even when the land surface strongly constrains the surface energy budget. However, since the theory has only been evaluated at quasi-point spatial scales using eddy covariance measurements with limited global coverage, it is unclear if it is applicable to the larger spatial scales relevant to studies of global climate. In this study, SFE estimates of the Bowen ratio are combined with satellite observations of surface net radiation to obtain large-scale estimates of latent heat flux (λE). When evaluated against multiyear mean annual λE obtained from catchment water balance estimates from 221 catchments across the United States, the resulting error statistics are comparable to those in the catchment water balance estimates themselves. The theory is then used to diagnostically estimate λE using historical simulations from 26 CMIP6 models. The resulting SFE estimates are typically at least as accurate as the CMIP6 model’s simulated λE, when compared with catchment water balance estimates. Globally, there is broad spatial and temporal agreement between CMIP6 model SFE estimates and the CMIP6 model’s simulated λE, although SFE likely overestimates λE in some arid regions. We conclude that SFE applies reasonably at large spatial scales relevant to climate studies, and is broadly reproduced in climate models.

Corresponding author address: Kaighin A. McColl, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail: kmccoll@seas.harvard.edu
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