Articles | Volume 18, issue 3
Research article
18 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 18 Mar 2014

A comparison of methods for determining field evapotranspiration: photosynthesis system, sap flow, and eddy covariance

Z. Zhang, F. Tian, H. Hu, and P. Yang

Abstract. A multi-scale, multi-technique study was conducted to measure evapotranspiration and its components in a cotton field under mulched drip irrigation conditions in northwestern China. Three measurement techniques at different scales were used: a photosynthesis system (leaf scale), sap flow (plant scale), and eddy covariance (field scale). The experiment was conducted from July to September 2012. To upscale the evapotranspiration from the leaf to plant scale, an approach that incorporated the canopy structure and the relationships between sunlit and shaded leaves was proposed. To upscale the evapotranspiration from the plant to field scale, an approach based on the transpiration per unit leaf area was adopted and modified to incorporate the temporal variability in the relationship between leaf areas and stem diameter. At the plant scale, the estimate of the transpiration based on the photosynthesis system with upscaling was slightly higher (18%) than that obtained by sap flow. At the field scale, the estimates of transpiration derived from sap flow with upscaling and eddy covariance showed reasonable consistency during the cotton's open-boll growth stage, during which soil evaporation can be neglected. The results indicate that the proposed upscaling approaches are reasonable and valid. Based on the measurements and upscaling approaches, evapotranspiration components were analyzed for a cotton field under mulched drip irrigation. During the two analyzed sub-periods in July and August, evapotranspiration rates were 3.94 and 4.53 m day−1, respectively. The fraction of transpiration to evapotranspiration reached 87.1% before drip irrigation and 82.3% after irrigation. The high fraction of transpiration over evapotranspiration was principally due to the mulched film above the drip pipe, low soil water content in the inter-film zone, well-closed canopy, and high water requirement of the crop.