Comparison of evapotranspiration estimates using the water balance and the eddy covariance methods

Tanja Denager, Majken C. Looms, Torben O. Sonnenborg, Karsten H. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The eddy covariance method estimates the energy flux of latent heat for evapotranspiration. However, imbalance between the land surface energy output and input is a well-known fact. Energy balance closure is most commonly not achieved, and therefore the eddy covariance method potentially underestimates actual evapotranspiration. Notwithstanding, the method is one of the most established measurement techniques for estimating evapotranspiration. Here, evapotranspiration from eddy covariance (ETEC) is cross-checked with evapotranspiration calculated as the residual of the water balance (ETwb). The water balance closure using ETEC is simultaneously validated. Over a 6-yr period, all major terms of the water balance are measured including precipitation, recharge from percolation lysimeters, and soil moisture content from a cosmic-ray neutron sensor, a capacitance sensor network, and time domain reflectometry (TDR), respectively. In addition, we estimate their respective uncertainties. The study demonstrates that both monthly and yearly ETEC and ETwb compare well and that the water balance is closed when ETEC is used. Concurrently, incoming available energy (net radiation minus ground heat flux) on average exceeds the turbulent energy fluxes (latent heat flux and sensible heat flux) by 31%, exposing the energy–surface imbalance. Consequently, the imbalance in the energy balance using the eddy covariance method must, to a lesser degree, be caused by errors in the latent heat estimates but can mainly be attributed to errors in the other energy flux components.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20032
Number of pages21
JournalVadose Zone Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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