Satellite based analysis of northern ET trends and associated changes in the regional water balance from 1983 to 2005

Ke Zhang, John S. Kimball, Qiaozhen Mu, Lucas A. Jones, Scott J. Goetz, Steven W. Running

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213 Scopus citations


We developed an evapotranspiration (ET) algorithm driven by satellite remote sensing inputs, including AVHRR GIMMS NDVI, MODIS land cover and NASA/GEWEX solar radiation and albedo, and regionally corrected NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis daily surface meteorology. The algorithm was used to assess spatial patterns and temporal trends in ET over the pan-Arctic basin and Alaska from 1983 to 2005. We then analyzed associated changes in the regional water balance defined as precipitation (P) minus ET, where monthly P was defined from Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) and Global Precipitation Climatology Center (GPCC) sources. Monthly ET results derived from both in situ meteorological measurements and coarse resolution model reanalysis inputs agreed well (RMSE = 5.1-6.3 mm month-1; R2 = 0.91-0.92) with measurements from eight independent flux towers representing regionally dominant land cover types. ET showed generally positive trends over most of the pan-Arctic domain, though negative ET trends occurred over 32% of the region, primarily in boreal forests of southern and central Canada. Generally positive trends in ET, P and available long-term river discharge measurements imply that the pan-Arctic terrestrial water cycle is intensifying despite uncertainty in regional P and associated water balance estimates. Increasing water deficits in eastern Alaska, Canadian Yukon and western Prairie Provinces, and Northern Mongolia agree with regional drought records and recent satellite observations of vegetation browning and productivity decreases. Our results indicate that the pan-Arctic water balance is responding to a warming climate in complex ways with direct links to terrestrial carbon and energy cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-110
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 15 2009


  • Arctic tundra
  • Boreal forest
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Satellite
  • Surface conductance
  • Water balance


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