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Vitor Vieira Vasconcelos

PhD in Natural Science

Associate Professor Federal University of ABC (UFABC)
November 2017

This report addresses how evapotranspiration rates can be calculated. It also

explores the role of meteorological variables on evapotranspiration. For this
report, evapotranspiration is defined as the sum of transpiration from plants and
evaporation from all other surfaces (Gowing et al., 2008).

Plant transpiration is important for cooling tissues, nutrient circulation and

keeping cells turgidity. Evapotranspiration is also relevant for keeping air
humidity in levels in which plants and other living beings can optimally operate
their vital processes without dehydration.

There are many ways to calculate evapotranspiration, depending on the spatial-

temporal scale, available data, environmental context and study purposes. One
possible way to calculate evapotranspiration in catchment scale is through its
water balance, expressed in Equation 1 (The Open University, 2016).
Evapotranspiration is equivalent to 70-80% of rainfall as a global average (The
Open University, 2016), thus it is a very important component for hydrological
modelling. Equation 1 assumes some simplifications, such as not considering
groundwater flows.

E= P R S


E= Evapotranspiration

R = Runoff

S = Variation of soil storage

Another approach, moving from the catchment scale to a land parcel, is to focus
on the vertical gradient, studying the difference between precipitation and
evapotranspiration. One technique to calculate evapotranspiration in this context
is the Bowen Ratio, measuring how much incoming energy (solar radiation) is
transformed into latent heat (used in evapotranspiration) or sensible heat
(Campbell and Williamson, 1997).

Another way to estimate the evapotranspiration in land parcels is the Penman

Monteith theoretical model (Monteith, 1965). The inputs for this model include air
temperature, solar radiation, relative humidity and wind speed as meteorological
variables; and the stomatal conductance, albedo, elevation and latitude as site
variables. Both Bowen Ratio and Penman-Monteith methods can be useful to
access the differences in water demand for native ecosystems or agriculture.

In the water balance model at catchment scale, the main meteorological variable
for evapotranspiration modelling is rainfall. Indeed, without water entering in the
system, there would be nothing to evaporate. On the other hand, regarding
Bowen Ratio technique, the main meteorological variable is solar radiation,
because more energy entering in the system would probably lead to more
evaporation (provided that there is water to evaporate). For example, in the
hottest moment of the day, there would be proportionally more evapotranspiration
than in the night.

Regarding Penman-Monteith model, the wind speed is a crucial factor to

understand evapotranspiration. If there is no wind, solar radiation will influence
more evapotranspiration, such as in a greenhouse. If the wind is strong,
evaporation will be led by the water vapour gradient between the leaf and
adjacent air (e.g., lower humidity of the atmosphere, when compared to the
saturated environment inside the leaf).

In conclusion, each approach to estimate evapotranspiration have its advantages

and limitations. Each approach also relies on different meteorological variables,
and focus on the distinct roles of these variables. The researcher should evaluate
what is the most feasible method to use in the experiment or, whenever possible,
compare the results of more than one method.


Campbell, D.I. and Williamson, J.L. (1997) Evaporation from a raised peat bog,
Journal of Hydrology, vol. 193, pp.14260.
Gowing, D.J.G., Davies, S.J.M., Denny, H., Edwards, N.R., Gauci, V., Gillman,
M.P., Halliday, T.R. and Stevens, C.J. (2008) Ecosystems, Open University, 267
pp., ISBN 978 0 7492 2523 0.

Monteith, J.L. (1965) Evaporation and environment. Symposia of the Society of

Experimental Biology, Cambridge, University Press, vol. 19, pp. 205234,

The Open University (2016) S369 Block 2: Balances and Cycles, Milton Keynes,
The Open University.