Articles | Volume 20, issue 2
Research article
03 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 03 Feb 2016

A scaling approach to Budyko's framework and the complementary relationship of evapotranspiration in humid environments: case study of the Amazon River basin

A. M. Carmona, G. Poveda, M. Sivapalan, S. M. Vallejo-Bernal, and E. Bustamante

Abstract. This paper studies a 3-D state space representation of Budyko's framework designed to capture the mutual interdependence among long-term mean actual evapotranspiration (E), potential evapotranspiration (Ep) and precipitation (P). For this purpose we use three dimensionless and dependent quantities: Ψ  =  EP, Φ  =  EpP and Ω  =  EEp. This 3-D space and its 2-D projections provide an interesting setting to test the physical soundness of Budyko's hypothesis. We demonstrate analytically that Budyko-type equations are unable to capture the physical limit of the relation between Ω and Φ in humid environments, owing to the unfeasibility of EpP  =  0 when EEp  →  1. Using data from 146 sub-catchments in the Amazon River basin we overcome this inconsistency by proposing a physically consistent power law: Ψ  =  kΦe, with k  =  0.66, and e  =  0.83 (R2  =  0.93). This power law is compared with two other Budyko-type equations. Taking into account the goodness of fits and the ability to comply with the physical limits of the 3-D space, our results show that the power law is better suited to model the coupled water and energy balances within the Amazon River basin. Moreover, k is found to be related to the partitioning of energy via evapotranspiration in terms of Ω. This suggests that our power law implicitly incorporates the complementary relationship of evapotranspiration into the Budyko curve, which is a consequence of the dependent nature of the studied variables within our 3-D space. This scaling approach is also consistent with the asymmetrical nature of the complementary relationship of evapotranspiration. Looking for a physical explanation for the parameters k and e, the inter-annual variability of individual catchments is studied. Evidence of space–time symmetry in Amazonia emerges, since both between-catchment and between-year variability follow the same Budyko curves. Finally, signs of co-evolution of catchments are explored by linking spatial patterns of the power law parameters with fundamental characteristics of the Amazon River basin. In general, k and e are found to be related to vegetation, topography and water in soils.

Short summary
We study a 3-D generalization of Budyko's framework that captures the interdependence among actual and potential evapotranspiration and precipitation. We demonstrate that Budyko-type equations present an inconsistency in humid environments, which we overcome by proposing a physically consistent power law that incorporates the complementary relationship of evapotranspiration into the Budyko curve. Evidence of space-time symmetry and signs of co-evolution of catchments are also found in Amazonia.