Modeling actual evapotranspiration with routine meteorological variables in the data-scarce region of the Tibetan Plateau: Comparisons and implications

Ning Ma, Yinsheng Zhang, Chong Yu Xu, Jozsef Szilagyi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Citations (Scopus)


Quantitative estimation of actual evapotranspiration (ETa) by in situ measurements and mathematical modeling is a fundamental task for physical understanding of ETa as well as the feedback mechanisms between land and the ambient atmosphere. However, the ETa information in the Tibetan Plateau (TP) has been greatly impeded by the extremely sparse ground observation network in the region. Approaches for estimating ETa solely from routine meteorological variables are therefore important for investigating spatiotemporal variations of ETa in the data-scarce region of the TP. Motivated by this need, the complementary relationship (CR) and Penman-Monteith approaches were evaluated against in situ measurements of ETa on a daily basis in an alpine steppe region of the TP. The former includes the Nonlinear Complementary Relationship (Nonlinear-CR) as well as the Complementary Relationship Areal Evapotranspiration (CRAE) models, while the latter involves the Katerji-Perrier and the Todorovic models. Results indicate that the Nonlinear-CR, CRAE, and Katerji-Perrier models are all capable of efficiently simulating daily ETa, provided their parameter values were appropriately calibrated. The Katerji-Perrier model performed best since its site-specific parameters take the soil water status into account. The Nonlinear-CR model also performed well with the advantage of not requiring the user to choose between a symmetric and asymmetric CR. The CRAE model, even with a relatively low Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) value, is also an acceptable approach in this data-scarce region as it does not need information of wind speed and ground surface conditions. In contrast, application of the Todorovic model was found to be inappropriate in the dry regions of the TP due to its significant overestimation of ETa as it neglects the effect of water stress on the bulk surface resistance. Sensitivity analysis of the parameter values demonstrated the relative importance of each parameter in the corresponding model. Overall, the Nonlinear-CR model is recommended in the absence of measured ETa for local calibration of the model parameter values. Key Points Routine meteorological variables aid ETa estimation in data-scarce region CR and Penman-Monteith approaches were evaluated against measured ETa in TP Nonlinear-CR model is preferred when measured ETa is unavailable

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1638-1657
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research G: Biogeosciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Penman-Monteith equation
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • actual evapotranspiration
  • alpine steppe
  • complementary relationship
  • data-scarce region

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology

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