Global assessment of how averaging over spatial heterogeneity in precipitation and potential evapotranspiration affects modeled evapotranspiration rates

Rouholahnejad Freund, Elham; Fan, Ying; Kirchner, James W.

Accurately estimating large-scale evapotranspiration (ET) rates is essential to understanding and predicting global change. Evapotranspiration models that are applied at a continental scale typically operate on relatively large spatial grids, with the result that the heterogeneity in land surface properties and processes at smaller spatial scales cannot be explicitly represented. Averaging over this spatial heterogeneity may lead to biased estimates of energy and water fluxes. Here we estimate how averaging over spatial heterogeneity in precipitation (inline-formulaP) and potential evapotranspiration (PET) may affect grid-cell-averaged evapotranspiration rates, as seen from the atmosphere over heterogeneous landscapes across the globe. Our goal is to identify where, under what conditions, and at what scales this “heterogeneity bias” could be most important but not to quantify its absolute magnitude. We use Budyko curves as simple functions that relate ET to precipitation and potential evapotranspiration. Because the relationships driving ET are nonlinear, averaging over subgrid heterogeneity in inline-formulaP and PET will lead to biased estimates of average ET. We examine the global distribution of this bias, its scale dependence, and its sensitivity to variations in inline-formulaP vs. PET. Our analysis shows that this heterogeneity bias is more pronounced in mountainous terrain, in landscapes where spatial variations in inline-formulaP and PET are inversely correlated, and in regions with temperate climates and dry summers. We also show that this heterogeneity bias increases on average, and expands over larger areas, as the grid cell size increases.

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Rouholahnejad Freund, Elham / Fan, Ying / Kirchner, James W.: Global assessment of how averaging over spatial heterogeneity in precipitation and potential evapotranspiration affects modeled evapotranspiration rates. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Elham Rouholahnejad Freund et al.

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