The uncertainties and causes of the recent changes in global evapotranspiration from 1982 to 2010

Climate Dynamics | Dong & Dai [2016]


Recent studies have shown considerable changes in terrestrial evapotranspiration (ET) since the early 1980s, but the causes of these changes remain unclear. In this study, the relative contributions of external climate forcing and internal climate variability to the recent ET changes are examined. Three datasets of global terrestrial ET and the CMIP5 multi-model ensemble mean ET are analyzed, respectively, to quantify the apparent and externally-forced ET changes, while the unforced ET variations are estimated as the apparent ET minus the forced component. Large discrepancies of the ET estimates, in terms of their trend, variability, and temperature- and precipitation-dependence, are found among the three datasets. Results show that the forced global-mean ET exhibits an upward trend of 0.08 mm day−1 century−1 from 1982 to 2010. The forced ET also contains considerable multi-year to decadal variations during the latter half of the 20th century that are caused by volcanic aerosols. The spatial patterns and interannual variations of the forced ET are more closely linked to precipitation than temperature. After removing the forced component, the global-mean ET shows a trend ranging from −0.07 to 0.06 mm day−1 century−1 during 1982–2010 with varying spatial patterns among the three datasets. Furthermore, linkages between the unforced ET and internal climate modes are examined. Variations in Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are found to be consistently correlated with ET over many land areas among the ET datasets. The results suggest that there are large uncertainties in our current estimates of global terrestrial ET for the recent decades, and the greenhouse gas (GHG) and aerosol external forcings account for a large part of the apparent trend in global-mean terrestrial ET since 1982, but Pacific SST and other internal climate variability dominate recent ET variations and changes over most regions.

Full text can be found here.


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