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Recent decline in the global land evapotranspiration trend due to limited moisture supply

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More than half of the solar energy absorbed by land surfaces is currently used to evaporate water1. Climate change is expected to intensify the hydrological cycle2 and to alter evapotranspiration, with implications for ecosystem services and feedback to regional and global climate. Evapotranspiration changes may already be under way, but direct observational constraints are lacking at the global scale. Until such evidence is available, changes in the water cycle on land—a key diagnostic criterion of the effects of climate change and variability—remain uncertain. Here we provide a data-driven estimate of global land evapotranspiration from 1982 to 2008, compiled using a global monitoring network3, meteorological and remote-sensing observations, and a machine-learning algorithm4. In addition, we have assessed evapotranspiration variations over the same time period using an ensemble of process-based land-surface models. Our results suggest that global annual evapotranspiration increased on average by 7.1 ± 1.0 millimetres per year per decade from 1982 to 1997. After that, coincident with the last major El Niño event in 1998, the global evapotranspiration increase seems to have ceased until 2008. This change was driven primarily by moisture limitation in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly Africa and Australia. In these regions, microwave satellite observations indicate that soil moisture decreased from 1998 to 2008. Hence, increasing soil-moisture limitations on evapotranspiration largely explain the recent decline of the global land-evapotranspiration trend. Whether the changing behaviour of evapotranspiration is representative of natural climate variability or reflects a more permanent reorganization of the land water cycle is a key question for earth system science.

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Figure 1: Validation of global land ET product from MTE.
Figure 2: Global land-ET variability according to MTE and independent models.
Figure 3: ET trend changes.
Figure 4: Soil-moisture and ET trends.

Change history

  • 21 October 2010

    The affiliations for J.H. and K.O. were corrected.


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This work used eddy covariance data acquired by the FLUXNET community and in particular by the following networks: AmeriFlux (US Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Carbon Program; DE-FG02-04ER63917 and DE-FG02-04ER63911), AfriFlux, AsiaFlux, CarboAfrica, CarboEuropeIP, CarboItaly, CarboMont, ChinaFlux, Fluxnet-Canada (supported by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, BIOCAP, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada), GreenGrass, KoFlux, the Largescale Biosphere–Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, the Nordic Centre for Studies of Ecosystem Carbon Exchange, OzFlux, the Terrestrial Carbon Observatory System Siberia and US–China Carbon Consortium. We acknowledge the support to the eddy covariance data harmonization provided by CarboEuropeIP; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Global Terrestrial Observing System Terrestrial Carbon Observations; the Integrated Land Ecosystem–Atmosphere Processes Study, a core project of the International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme; the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry; the National Science Foundation; the University of Tuscia; Université Laval; Environment Canada; and the US Department of Energy. We acknowledge database development and technical support from Berkeley Water Center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Microsoft Research eScience, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley and University of Virginia. We thank the members of FLUXNET ( for their help with the data on this work. TRMM soil moisture retrievals and analysis were supported by the European Union (FP6) funded integrated project called WATCH (contract number 036946) that supported A.J.D. and R.d.J. M.J. and M.R. were supported by the European Union (FP7) integrated project COMBINE (number 226520) and a grant from the Max-Planck Society establishing the MPRG Biogeochemical Model-Data Integration. C.W. was supported by the US National Science Foundation under grant ATM-0910766. D.P. acknowledges the support of the Euro–Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change. We acknowledge institutions and projects for free access to relevant data: the Global Runoff Data Centre, the Global Soil Wetness Project 2, the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre, the Global Precipitation Climatology Project, the Global Historical Climatology Network, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the University of East Anglia, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.J. and M.R. designed the study and are responsible for the integrity of the manuscript; M.J. performed the analysis and all calculations. M.J., M.R., P.C., S.I.S. and M.L.G. mainly wrote the manuscript. J.S., G.B., D. Gerten, J.H., J.K., Q.M., K.O., S.R., N.V., E.W., S.Z. and K.Z. contributed independent evapotranspiration model results. N.G. provided remotely sensed FAPAR data; R.d.J. and A.J.D. provided the TRMM soil-moisture data. E.T. and U.W. contributed to data processing. A.C., J.C., D. Gianelle, M.L.G., B.E.L., W.E., B.M., L.M., D.P., A.D.R., O.R. and C.W. contributed data provision or data processing. All authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martin Jung or Markus Reichstein.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figures 1-6 with legends and Supplementary Tables 1-7. (PDF 1466 kb)

Supplementary Data 1

The data file contains the monthly FLUXNET training data set with all explanatory variables and corrected ET values, which was used to train MTE. (XLS 2812 kb)

Supplementary Data 2

The data file contains the values of line or bar plots of Figures 2-4. (XLS 52 kb)

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Jung, M., Reichstein, M., Ciais, P. et al. Recent decline in the global land evapotranspiration trend due to limited moisture supply. Nature 467, 951–954 (2010).

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