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Environmental and biological controls on monthly and annual evapotranspiration in China’s Loess Plateau

Abstract

Information about evapotranspiration (ET) is essential for managing water resources, especially in areas with limited water and no irrigation facilities. In this study, based on ET observations made using an eddy covariance system, the variation of ET and its control factors are investigated on monthly and annual scales in the context of China’s Loess Plateau. Monthly ET is determined by the reference ET (ET0) and surface conductance (gs), where ET0 is an indicator of both the energy available for ET and the atmospheric demand for evaporation and gs represents the environmental stress that limits ET. The correlations among volumetric soil water content (SWC), leaf area index (LAI), and monthly ET are weak across all the studied ecosystems. ET shows large inter-annual variability in the Loess Plateau, with a coefficient of inter-annual variation of 19.5%. The environmental variables of ET0, precipitation (P), SWC, LAI, and gs also show notable inter-annual variability. P is the original factor forcing the inter-annual variability of ET. LAI and gs are important for regulating ET and reduce the correlation between ET and SWC. Different ecosystems use different biological processes to regulate ET under conditions of water stress: for natural vegetation, gs responds directly to SWC and surface air vapor pressure (e) and controls ET by regulating transpiration; for cropland, LAI responds directly to SWC and e and determines gs, thereby regulating ET. The present results suggest that LAI is useful for characterizing the physiological constraints on cropland ET but is not suitable for estimating the ET of semi-arid natural vegetation. Parameterizing gs with e could give better estimates of ET for natural vegetation.

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Acknowledgements

Remote sensing data (LAI) were provided by NASA EOS. We thank the College of Atmospheric Sciences, Lanzhou University, for providing observation data from the Semi-Arid Climate and Environment Observatory of Lanzhou University (Yuzhong site). We are grateful to all the investigators that participated in the field experiment at the Dingxi, Pingliang, and Qingyang sites. This work was jointly supported by the Major Program of the National Nature Science Foundation of China (41630426, 91637106, 41705075) and the Research Foundation for Talented Scholars of Chengdu University of Information Technology (KYTZ201734).

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Correspondence to Zesu Yang.

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Yang, Z., Zhang, Q. & Hao, X. Environmental and biological controls on monthly and annual evapotranspiration in China’s Loess Plateau. Theor Appl Climatol 137, 1675–1692 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-018-2701-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-018-2701-4