Ecosystem transpiration and evaporation: insights from three water flux partitioning methods across FLUXNET sites

Jacob A. Nelson*, Oscar Pérez-Priego, Sha Zhou, Rafael Poyatos, Yao Zhang, Peter D. Blanken, Teresa E. Gimeno, Georg Wohlfahrt, Ankur R. Desai, Beniamino Gioli, Jean-Marc Limousin, Damien Bonal, Eugénie Paul-Limoges, Russell L. Scott, Andrej Varlagin, Kathrin Fuchs, Leonardo Montagnani, Sebastian Wolf, Nicolas Delpierre, Daniel BerveillerMana Gharun, Luca Belelli Marchesini, Damiano Gianelle, Ladislav Šigut, Ivan Mammarella, Lukas Siebicke, T. Andrew Black, Alexander Knohl, Lukas Hörtnagl, Vincenzo Magliulo, Simon Besnard, Ulrich Weber, Nuno Carvalhais, Mirco Migliavacca, Markus Reichstein, Martin Jung

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    80 Citations (Scopus)
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    We apply and compare three widely applicable methods for estimating ecosystem transpiration (T) from eddy covariance (EC) data across 251 FLUXNET sites globally. All three methods are based on the coupled water and carbon relationship, but they differ in assumptions and parameterizations. Intercomparison of the three daily T estimates shows high correlation among methods (R between .89 and.94), but a spread in magnitudes of T/ET (evapotranspiration) from 45% to 77%. When compared at six sites with concurrent EC and sap flow measurements, all three EC-based T estimates show higher correlation to sap flow-based T than EC-based ET. The partitioning methods show expected tendencies of T/ET increasing with dryness (vapor pressure deficit and days since rain) and with leaf area index (LAI). Analysis of 140 sites with high-quality estimates for at least two continuous years shows that T/ET variability was 1.6 times higher across sites than across years. Spatial variability of T/ET was primarily driven by vegetation and soil characteristics (e.g., crop or grass designation, minimum annual LAI, soil coarse fragment volume) rather than climatic variables such as mean/standard deviation of temperature or precipitation. Overall, T and T/ET patterns are plausible and qualitatively consistent among the different water flux partitioning methods implying a significant advance made for estimating and understanding T globally, while the magnitudes remain uncertain. Our results represent the first extensive EC data-based estimates of ecosystem T permitting a data-driven perspective on the role of plants’ water use for global water and carbon cycling in a changing climate.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6916-6930
    Number of pages15
    JournalGlobal Change Biology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • ecohydrology
    • eddy covariance
    • evaporation
    • evapotranspiration
    • transpiration


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