Articles | Volume 18, issue 10
Research article
07 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 07 Oct 2014

Variability of moisture recycling using a precipitationshed framework

P. W. Keys, E. A. Barnes, R. J. van der Ent, and L. J. Gordon

Abstract. Recent research has revealed that upwind land-use changes can significantly influence downwind precipitation. The precipitationshed (the upwind ocean and land surface that contributes evaporation to a specific location's precipitation) may provide a boundary for coordination and governance of these upwind–downwind water linkages. We aim to quantify the variability of the precipitationshed boundary to determine whether there are persistent and significant sources of evaporation for a given region's precipitation. We identify the precipitationsheds for three regions (i.e., western Sahel, northern China, and La Plata) by tracking atmospheric moisture with a numerical water transport model (Water Accounting Model-2layers, or WAM-2layers) using gridded fields from both the ERA-Interim (European Reanalysis Interim) and MERRA (Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications) reanalyses. Precipitationshed variability is examined first by diagnosing the persistence of the evaporation contribution and second with an analysis of the spatial variability of the evaporation contribution. The analysis leads to three key conclusions: (1) a core precipitationshed exists; (2) most of the variance in the precipitationshed is explained by a pulsing of more or less evaporation from the core precipitationshed; and (3) the reanalysis data sets agree reasonably well, although the degree of agreement is regionally dependent. Given that much of the growing-season evaporation arises from within a core precipitationshed that is largely persistent in time, we conclude that the precipitationshed can potentially provide a useful boundary for governing land-use change on downwind precipitation.