Articles | Volume 14, issue 10
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 2039–2056, 2010
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 2039–2056, 2010

Research article 25 Oct 2010

Research article | 25 Oct 2010

Potential groundwater contribution to Amazon evapotranspiration

Y. Fan1 and G. Miguez-Macho2 Y. Fan and G. Miguez-Macho
  • 1Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08854, USA
  • 2Non-linear Physics Group, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Abstract. Climate and land ecosystem models simulate a dry-season vegetation stress in the Amazon forest, but observations do not support these results, indicating adequate water supply. Proposed mechanisms include larger soil water store and deeper roots in nature and the ability of roots to move water up and down (hydraulic redistribution), both absent in the models. Here we provide a first-order assessment of the potential importance of the upward soil water flux from the groundwater driven by capillarity. We present a map of equilibrium water table depth from available observations and a groundwater model simulation constrained by these observations. We then present a map of maximum capillary flux these water table depths, combined with the fine-textured soils in the Amazon, can potentially support. The maps show that the water table beneath the Amazon can be shallow in lowlands and river valleys (<5 m in 36% and <10 m in 60% of Amazonia). These water table depths can potentially accommodate a maximum capillary flux of 2.1 mm day−1 to the land surface averaged over Amazonia, but varies from 0.6 to 3.7 mm day−1 across nine study sites.

We note that the results presented here are based on limited observations and simple equilibrium model calculations, and as such, have important limitations and must be interpreted accordingly. The potential capillary fluxes are not indicative of their contribution to the actual evapotranspiration, and they are only an assessment of the possible rate at which this flux can occur, to illustrate the power of soil capillary force acting on a shallow water table in fine textured soils. They may over-estimate the actual flux where the surface soils remain moist. Their contribution to the actual evapotranspiration can only be assessed through fully coupled model simulation of the dynamic feedbacks between soil water and groundwater with sub-daily climate forcing. The equilibrium water table obtained here serves as the initial state for the dynamic simulation, and together with the equilibrium potential capillary flux, will serve as a baseline to evaluate the diurnal, event, seasonal and inter-annual dynamics.