Articles | Volume 19, issue 1
Research article
28 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 28 Jan 2015

Spatial evapotranspiration, rainfall and land use data in water accounting – Part 1: Review of the accuracy of the remote sensing data

P. Karimi and W. G. M. Bastiaanssen

Abstract. The scarcity of water encourages scientists to develop new analytical tools to enhance water resource management. Water accounting and distributed hydrological models are examples of such tools. Water accounting needs accurate input data for adequate descriptions of water distribution and water depletion in river basins. Ground-based observatories are decreasing, and not generally accessible. Remote sensing data is a suitable alternative to measure the required input variables. This paper reviews the reliability of remote sensing algorithms to accurately determine the spatial distribution of actual evapotranspiration, rainfall and land use. For our validation we used only those papers that covered study periods of seasonal to annual cycles because the accumulated water balance is the primary concern. Review papers covering shorter periods only (days, weeks) were not included in our review. Our review shows that by using remote sensing, the absolute values of evapotranspiration can be estimated with an overall accuracy of 95% (SD 5%) and rainfall with an overall absolute accuracy of 82% (SD 15%). Land use can be identified with an overall accuracy of 85% (SD 7%). Hence, more scientific work is needed to improve the spatial mapping of rainfall and land use using multiple space-borne sensors. While not always perfect at all spatial and temporal scales, seasonally accumulated actual evapotranspiration maps can be used with confidence in water accounting and hydrological modeling.