EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Towards Understanding Evapotranspiration Shifts Under a Drying Climate

Hansini Gardiya Weligamage1, Keirnan Fowler1, Tim Peterson2, Margarita Saft1, Dongryeol Ryu1, and Murray Peel1
Hansini Gardiya Weligamage et al.
  • 1Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Around 60 percent of terrestrial precipitation on the global average transforms into evapotranspiration. However, reliable estimation of actual evapotranspiration (AET) is challenging as it depends on multiple climatic and biophysical factors. Despite developments such as remotely sensed AET products, AET responses to prolonged drought is still poorly understood. Therefore, this study focuses on understanding long-term changes and variability of AET prior to and during the Millennium Drought in Victoria, Australia. We also investigate the capability of commonly used rainfall-runoff models to simulate AET under multiyear droughts. Therefore, we employ simple sensitivity analysis to examine four different water balance approaches between pre-drought and drought periods in six different study catchments in Victoria. The first water balance approach is the simplest long-term water balance approach, partitioning long-term precipitation into evapotranspiration and runoff. The second water balance approach adopts a long-term change in storage to the water balance during the Millennium Drought by employing regional-scale change in GRACE estimates derived from Fowler et al. (2020). The third and fourth water balances are based on simulations from SIMHYD and SACRAMENTO. Surprisingly, the adoption of long-term change in storage during the Millennium Drought indicates that the annual rates of pre-drought AET were largely maintained throughout the drought; i.e. the rate was relatively constant with time. This suggests that AET gets priority over streamflow following a drying shift in precipitation partitioning; resulting in a relatively constant AET under multiyear drought. In contrast, the rainfall-runoff models underestimated AET during the drought compared to both water balance approaches. These results broadly acknowledge the need for model improvements to provide more realistic AET estimates under future drying climates and provide a new perspective on recent hydrological phenomena such as changing rainfall-runoff relationships in these regions. Furthermore, this sensitivity analysis was augmented and confirmed by a regional-scale water balance approach.

Keywords: Catchment water balance, Evapotranspiration, Change in storage, Rainfall-runoff models

References: Fowler, K., Knoben, W., Peel, M., Peterson, T., Ryu, D., Saft, M., Seo, K.W., Western, A., 2020. Many Commonly Used Rainfall-Runoff Models Lack Long, Slow Dynamics: Implications for Runoff Projections. Water Resour. Res. 56.


How to cite: Gardiya Weligamage, H., Fowler, K., Peterson, T., Saft, M., Ryu, D., and Peel, M.: Towards Understanding Evapotranspiration Shifts Under a Drying Climate, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-13013,, 2022.


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