Evapotranspiration in the Amazon: spatial patterns, seasonality, and recent trends in observations, reanalysis, and climate models

Jessica C. A. Baker, Luis Garcia-Carreras, Manuel Gloor, John H. Marsham, Wolfgang Buermann, Humberto R. da Rocha, Antonio D. Nobre, Alessandro Carioca de Araujo, Dominick V. Spracklen

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Water recycled through transpiring forests influences the spatial distribution of precipitation in the Amazon and has been shown to play a role in the initiation of the wet season. However, due to the challenges and costs associated with measuring evapotranspiration (ET) directly and high uncertainty in remote-sensing ET retrievals, the spatial and temporal patterns in Amazon ET remain poorly understood. In this study, we estimated ET over the Amazon and 10 sub-basins using a catchment-balance approach, whereby ET is calculated directly as the balance between precipitation, runoff, and change in groundwater storage. We compared our results with ET from remote-sensing datasets, reanalysis, models from Phase 5 and Phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Projects (CMIP5 and CMIP6 respectively), and in situ flux tower measurements to provide a comprehensive overview of current understanding. Catchment-balance analysis revealed a gradient in ET from east to west/southwest across the Amazon Basin, a strong seasonal cycle in basin-mean ET primarily controlled by net incoming radiation, and no trend in ET over the past 2 decades. This approach has a degree of uncertainty, due to errors in each of the terms of the water budget; therefore, we conducted an error analysis to identify the range of likely values. Satellite datasets, reanalysis, and climate models all tended to overestimate the magnitude of ET relative to catchment-balance estimates, underestimate seasonal and interannual variability, and show conflicting positive and negative trends. Only two out of six satellite and model datasets analysed reproduced spatial and seasonal variation in Amazon ET, and captured the same controls on ET as indicated by catchment-balance analysis. CMIP5 and CMIP6 ET was inconsistent with catchment-balance estimates over all scales analysed. Overall, the discrepancies between data products and models revealed by our analysis demonstrate a need for more ground-based ET measurements in the Amazon as well as a need to substantially improve model representation of this fundamental component of the Amazon hydrological cycle./p.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2279-2300
Number of pages22
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


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