Disentangling the Relative Drivers of Seasonal Evapotranspiration Across a Continental-Scale Aridity Gradient

Adam M. Young, Mark A. Friedl, Kimberly Novick, Russell L. Scott, Minkyu Moon, Steve Frolking, Xiaolu Li, Carlos M. Carrillo, Andrew D. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Evapotranspiration (ET) is a significant ecosystem flux, governing the partitioning of energy at the land surface. Understanding the seasonal pattern and magnitude of ET is critical for anticipating a range of ecosystem impacts, including drought, heat-wave events, and plant mortality. In this study, we identified the relative controls of seasonal variability in ET, and how these controls vary among ecosystems. We used overlapping AmeriFlux and PhenoCam time series at a daily timestep from 20 sites to explore these linkages (# site-years >100), and our study area covered a broad climatological aridity gradient in the U.S. and Canada. We focused on disentangling the most important controls of bulk surface conductance (Gs) and evaporative fraction (EF = LE/[H + LE]), where LE and H represent latent and sensible heat fluxes, respectively. Specifically, we investigated how vegetation phenology varied in importance relative to meteorological variables (vapor pressure deficit and antecedent precipitation) as a driver of Gs and EF using path analysis, a framework for quantifying and comparing the causal linkages among multiple response and explanatory variables. Our results revealed that the drivers of Gs and EF seasonality varied significantly between energy- and water-limited ecosystems. Specifically, precipitation had a much higher effect in water-limited ecosystems, while seasonal patterns in canopy greenness emerged as a stronger control in energy-limited ecosystems. Given that phenology is expected to shift under future climate, our findings provide key information for understanding and predicting how phenology may impact 21st-century hydroclimate regimes and the surface-energy balance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022JG006916
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Palaeontology


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