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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 17, issue 10 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 4177-4187, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-17-4177-2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 25 Oct 2013

Research article | 25 Oct 2013

A worldwide analysis of trends in water-balance evapotranspiration

A. M. Ukkola1,2 and I. C. Prentice1,3 A. M. Ukkola and I. C. Prentice
  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2109, Australia
  • 2CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, Black Mountain, ACT 2601, Australia
  • 3AXA Chair of Biosphere and Climate Impacts, Department of Life Sciences and Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College, Silwood Park, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK

Abstract. Climate change is expected to alter the global hydrological cycle, with inevitable consequences for freshwater availability to people and ecosystems. But the attribution of recent trends in the terrestrial water balance remains disputed. This study attempts to account statistically for both trends and interannual variability in water-balance evapotranspiration (ET), estimated from the annual observed streamflow in 109 river basins during "water years" 1961–1999 and two gridded precipitation data sets. The basins were chosen based on the availability of streamflow time-series data in the Dai et al. (2009) synthesis. They were divided into water-limited "dry" and energy-limited "wet" basins following the Budyko framework. We investigated the potential roles of precipitation, aerosol-corrected solar radiation, land use change, wind speed, air temperature, and atmospheric CO2. Both trends and variability in ET show strong control by precipitation. There is some additional control of ET trends by vegetation processes, but little evidence for control by other factors. Interannual variability in ET was overwhelmingly dominated by precipitation, which accounted on average for 54–55% of the variation in wet basins (ranging from 0 to 100%) and 94–95% in dry basins (ranging from 69 to 100%). Precipitation accounted for 45–46% of ET trends in wet basins and 80–84% in dry basins. Net atmospheric CO2 effects on transpiration, estimated using the Land-surface Processes and eXchanges (LPX) model, did not contribute to observed trends in ET because declining stomatal conductance was counteracted by slightly but significantly increasing foliage cover.

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