Articles | Volume 18, issue 9
Research article
11 Sep 2014
Research article |  | 11 Sep 2014

Historical land-use-induced evapotranspiration changes estimated from present-day observations and reconstructed land-cover maps

J. P. Boisier, N. de Noblet-Ducoudré, and P. Ciais

Abstract. Recent results from the LUCID model intercomparison project have revealed large discrepancies in the simulated evapotranspiration (ET) response to the historical land-use change. Distinct land-surface parameterizations are behind those discrepancies, but understanding those differences rely on evaluations using still very limited measurements. Model benchmarking studies with observed ET are required in order to reduce the current uncertainties in the impacts of land use in terrestrial water flows. Here we present new estimates of historical land-use-induced ET changes based on three observation-driven products of ET. These products are used to derive empirical models of ET as a function of land-cover properties and environmental variables. An ensemble of reconstructions of past ET changes are derived with the same set of land-cover maps used in LUCID, with which we obtain an average decrease in global terrestrial ET of 1260 ± 850 km3 yr−1 between the preindustrial period and the present-day. This estimate is larger in magnitude than the mean ET change simulated within LUCID with process-based models, and substantially weaker than other estimates based on observations. Although decreases in annual ET dominate in deforested regions, large summertime increases in ET are diagnosed over areas of large cropland expansion. The multiple ET reconstructions carried out here show a large spread that we attribute principally to the different land-cover maps adopted and to the crops' ET rates deduced from the various products assessed. We therefore conclude that the current uncertainties of past ET changes could be reduced efficiently with improved historical land-cover reconstructions and better estimates of cropland ET.