Comparison of different evaporation estimates over the African continent

Trambauer P, Dutra E, Maskey S, Werner M, Pappenberger F, van Beek LPH, Uhlenbrook S
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 193-212, 2014

Download PDF


Evaporation is a key process in the water cycle with implications ranging, inter alia, from water management to weather forecast and climate change assessments. The estimation of continental evaporation fluxes is complex and typically relies on continental-scale hydrological models or land-surface models. However, it appears that most global or continental-scale hydrological models underestimate evaporative fluxes in some regions of Africa, and as a result overestimate stream flow. Other studies suggest that land-surface models may overestimate evaporative fluxes. In this study, we computed actual evaporation for the African continent using a continental version of the global hydrological model PCR-GLOBWB, which is based on a water balance approach. Results are compared with other independently computed evaporation products: the evaporation results from the ECMWF reanalysis ERA-Interim and ERA-Land (both based on the energy balance approach), the MOD16 evaporation product, and the GLEAM product. Three other alternative versions of the PCR-GLOBWB hydrological model were also considered. This resulted in eight products of actual evaporation, which were compared in distinct regions of the African continent spanning different climatic regimes. Annual totals, spatial patterns and seasonality were studied and compared through visual inspection and statistical methods. The comparison shows that the representation of irrigation areas has an insignificant contribution to the actual evaporation at a continental scale with a 0.5 spatial resolution when averaged over the defined regions. The choice of meteorological forcing data has a larger effect on the evaporation results, especially in the case of the precipitation input as different precipitation input resulted in significantly different evaporation in some of the studied regions. ERA-Interim evaporation is generally the highest of the selected products followed by ERA-Land evaporation. In some regions, the satellite-based products (GLEAM and MOD16) show a different seasonal behaviour compared to the other products. The results from this study contribute to a better understanding of the suitability and the differences between products in each climatic region. Through an improved understanding of the causes of differences between these products and their uncertainty, this study provides information to improve the quality of evaporation products for the African continent and, consequently, leads to improved water resources assessments at regional scale.