Recent decline in the global land evapotranspiration trend due to limited moisture supply


Martin Jung, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Markus Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Philippe Ciais, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
Sonia I. Seneviratne, Institut für Atmosphäre und Klima
Justin Sheffield, Princeton University
Michael L. Goulden, University of California, Irvine
Gordon Bonan, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Alessandro Cescatti, European Commission Joint Research Centre
Jiquan Chen, The University of Toledo
Richard De Jeu, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
A. Johannes Dolman, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Werner Eugster, ETH Zürich
Dieter Gerten, Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung
Damiano Gianelle, Fondazione Edmund Mach
Nadine Gobron, European Commission Joint Research Centre
Jens Heinke, Potsdam Institut fur Klimafolgenforschung
John Kimball, University of Montana Missoula
Beverly E. Law, Oregon State University
Leonardo Montagnani, Forest Services and Agency for the Environment
Qiaozhen Mu, University of Montana
Brigitte Mueller, Institut für Atmosphäre und Klima
Keith Oleson, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Dario Papale, Università degli Studi della Tuscia Viterbo
Andrew D. Richardson, Harvard University
Olivier Roupsard, CIRAD
Steve Running, University of Montana
Enrico Tomelleri, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Nicolas Viovy, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
Ulrich Weber, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
Christopher Williams, Clark University
Eric Wood, Princeton University
Sönke Zaehle, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

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More than half of the solar energy absorbed by land surfaces is currently used to evaporate water. Climate change is expected to intensify the hydrological cycle and to alter evapotranspiration, with implications for ecosystem services and feedback to regional and global climate. Evapotranspiration changes may already be under way, but direct observational constraints are lacking at the global scale. Until such evidence is available, changes in the water cycle on land-a key diagnostic criterion of the effects of climate change and variability-remain uncertain. Here we provide a data-driven estimate of global land evapotranspiration from 1982 to 2008, compiled using a global monitoring network, meteorological and remote-sensing observations, and a machine-learning algorithm. In addition, we have assessed evapotranspiration variations over the same time period using an ensemble of process-based land-surface models. Our results suggest that global annual evapotranspiration increased on average by 7.1 ± 1.0 millimetres per year per decade from 1982 to 1997. After that, coincident with the last major El Ni±o event in 1998, the global evapotranspiration increase seems to have ceased until 2008. This change was driven primarily by moisture limitation in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly Africa and Australia. In these regions, microwave satellite observations indicate that soil moisture decreased from 1998 to 2008. Hence, increasing soil-moisture limitations on evapotranspiration largely explain the recent decline of the global land-evapotranspiration trend. Whether the changing behaviour of evapotranspiration is representative of natural climate variability or reflects a more permanent reorganization of the land water cycle is a key question for earth system science. © 2010 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.

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evapotranspiration, climate change, remote sensing, soil moisture, hydrologic cycle, meteorological precipitation, environmental aspects